India's latest government-supported payments initiative, Bharat QR, officially launched on Monday, aiming to provide an interoperable mobile payments platform linking small merchants and consumers across channels via several major card payment networks.

Bharat QR, led by the Reserve Bank of India and the Indian Banks Association, will roll out in phases with the goal of eventually connecting 57 million of India’s smallest merchants for broadly accessible mobile payments, according to a Feb. 21 press release from Mastercard.

The payment card networks will play a key role in Bharat QR’s development, alongside India’s National Payment Corp. (NPC), which operates RuPay, the nation’s domestic payment card network. Mastercard is supporting Bharat QR via Masterpass QR, a payments method developed in India; Visa will link to the new platform via mVisa, its own QR code-based approach; and American Express is developing a similar QR code-based approach for its cardholders, Mastercard explained in the release.

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To pay with Bharat QR, consumers open their bank app or third-party mobile wallet and scan a participating merchant’s QR code, opting to make the payment directly from their bank account or a linked payment card, according to the press release.

“We are looking forward to leveraging our technology backbone and partnering with the government and the industry to create a robust, safe and secure digital payments ecosystem,” said Porush Singh, Mastercard’s corporate country officer for India, in the release.

Fourteen banks in India already have pledged to support Bharat QR, including HDFC Bank Ltd., ICICI Bank, Yes Bank, State Bank of India, Union Bank of India, Axis Bank, Bank of Baroda, Bank of India, Citi Union Bank and DCB Bank Ltd., among others.

In Bharat QR's static mode, users must enter the purchase amount, in addition to scanning the merchant’s QR code and entering a PIN. In the service's dynamic mode, the merchant generates a new QR code for each transaction, so users need only enter their PIN to complete the purchase, according to the release.

India provided initial details of Bharat QR late last year, on the heels of its demonetization initiative to reduce consumers’ reliance on cash.

After the first phase of development with payment card networks and banks, NPC plans to expand Bharat QR to support payments via Aadhaar, India’s national identification system to deliver government benefits; and Unified Payments Interface, a bank-to-bank mobile payments platform NPC previously developed.

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