New Delhi: WhatsApp on Friday said it is rolling out its payments services in India after receiving nod from the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI).

In 2018, the Facebook-owned company had started testing its UPI-based payments service in India, which allows users to utilise the messaging platform to send and receive money. The testing was limited to about a million users as it waited for regulatory approvals to come in.

On Thursday, NPCI - which runs the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) used for real-time payments between peers or at merchants' end while making purchases - allowed WhatsApp to start its payments service in the country in a "graded" manner, starting with a maximum registered user base of 20 million in UPI.

"Starting today, people across India will be able to send money through WhatsApp. This secure payments experience makes transferring money just as easy as sending a message. People can safely send money to a family member or share the cost of goods from a distance without having to exchange cash in person or going to a local bank," WhatsApp said in a blogpost.

It added that the payments feature has been designed in partnership with NPCI using UPI, an India-first, real-time payment system that enables transactions with over 160 supported banks.

In June this year, WhatsApp had launched 'WhatsApp Pay' in Brazil - making it the first country where the service was widely rolled out.

In India, WhatsApp - which counts India as its biggest market with over 400 million users - will compete with players like Paytm, Google Pay, Walmart-owned PhonePe and Amazon Pay.

"Payments (service) on WhatsApp is now available for people on the latest version of the iPhone and Android app... We're excited to join India's campaign to increase the ease and use of digital payments, which is helping expand financial inclusion in India," it said adding that users will need to have a bank account and debit card in India to send money through the platform in India.

WhatsApp said it is working with five banks in India - ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Axis Bank, the State Bank of India, and Jio Payments Bank - and people can send money on WhatsApp to anyone using a UPI supported app.

"In the long run, we believe the combination of WhatsApp and UPI's unique architecture can help local organisations address some of the key challenges of our time, including increasing rural participation in the digital economy and delivering financial services to those who have never had access before," it added.

WhatsApp noted that its payments service is designed with a strong set of security and privacy principles, including entering a personal UPI PIN for each payment.

"There is no fee... because its WhatsApp, you know its secure and private too. With UPI, India has created something truly special and is opening up a world of opportunities for micro and small businesses that's the backbone of the Indian economy," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a video message.

He added that the payments service will be available in 10 Indian language versions of WhatsApp.

Interestingly, the approval for WhatsApp came on the same day as NPCI limited a single third party like WhatsApp or its rivals like Google Pay or Walmart's PhonePe to handle only 30 per cent of overall UPI transaction volumes by putting a cap. This is expected to allay fears of potential monopolisation.

Recently, PhonePe had announced crossing the 250 million registered user milestone and over 100 million monthly active users (MAU), and had 835 million UPI transactions in October with a market leading share of over 40 per cent.

Google had 67 million monthly active users in September last year, and on the merchant side, it had over three million active merchant's data for June 2020. Google Pay has not shared any updated stats since September 2019.

UPI processed over 2.07 billion transactions in October (worth Rs 3.86 lakh crore), up from over 1.8 billion in the previous month, as per data from NPCI.

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Hong Kong, Oct 25: Amnesty International said Monday it would close its two offices in Hong Kong this year, becoming the latest non-governmental organization to cease its operations amid a crackdown on political dissent in the city.

The human rights group said its local office in Hong Kong would close this month while its regional office will close by the end of the year, with regional operations moved to other offices in the Asia-Pacific region.

This decision, made with a heavy heart, has been driven by Hong Kong's national security law, which has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government, Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, chair of Amnesty's board, said in a statement.

Hong Kong implemented a sweeping national security law in 2020 following months of massive anti-government protests. The law outlaws secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city's affairs. More than 120 people, many of them supporters of the city's democracy movement, have been arrested under the law.

The majority of the city's prominent pro-democracy activists are behind bars for taking part in unauthorized assemblies, and dozens of political organizations and trade unions have ceased operations out of concern for their members' personal safety under the security law.

Bais said the recent targeting of local human rights and trade union groups signaled authorities were intensifying their campaign to rid the city of dissenting voices. It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment, she said.

Critics in Hong Kong say the national security law is an erosion of freedoms, such as those of expression and assembly, that were promised the city for 50 years when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.