Banks to the Fore
Within the framework of a democratic polity, our laws, development policies, Plans and programmes have aimed at women’s advancement in different spheres. From the Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-78) onwards, there has been a marked shift in the approach to women’s issues from welfare to development. In recent years the empowerment of women has been recognised as the central issue in determining the status of women.
"The National Commission for Women was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1990 to safeguard the rights and legal entitlements of women. The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the Constitution of India have provided for reservation of seats in the local bodies of Panchayats and Municipalities for women, laying a strong foundation for their participation in decision-making at the local levels. The national policy for women, 2001 is a step in building up a strong women’s movement. The goal of this policy is to bring about the advancement, development and empowerment of women.
"The 9th Five Year Plan is committed to women’s empowerment. The principle of gender equity is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution grants not only equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women."
?Dr. Deepali Pant Joshi
|CHANGE catches up with Dr. Deepali Pant Joshi, General Manager, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), to elicit her views and the RBI’s role in empowering the Indian woman.|
It is high time that banks realise that women need not only a wide spectrum of financial services, but also adequate and timely access to them. That women tend to be much more prompt in repayment of loans as compared to males. That they desperately require support and help, particularly in the form of credit to enable them to set up income generating projects, which will enable them to make a living on a sustainable basis.
The Banking Division of the Ministry of Finance in consultation with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and other institutions ascertained the problems faced by women entrepreneurs in order to help overcome the hurdles being faced by them in access to bank credit and credit plus services. Some of the problems are:
On the basis of these findings, a 14-Point Action Plan has been drawn for implementation by public sector banks, which includes redefining of Banks?policies/long term plans, setting up women’s cells and designating an officer in each branch exclusively to handle flow of credit to women, simplification of existing procedural formalities, orientation of Bank officers/staff on gender concerns, publicity campaign for creating awareness about credit facilities, entrepreneurship development programmes for women, motivational strategies to enthuse Bank staff to achieve targets for women, a proper data collection and monitoring system, involving NGOs, Self Help Groups ?/font>
With a view to meeting the credit needs of women in the tiny and SSI sector within the existing institutional framework, the RBI has taken measures recently by increasing the limit for non-obtentation of collateral security from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 5 lakhs, raising of composite loan limit from Rs. 5 lakhs to Rs. 10 lakhs, raising of the limit of projects for equity support under the National Equity Fund Scheme of SIDBI from Rs. 15 lakhs to Rs. 25 lakhs.
The RBI has also helped draft a number of credit facilities for women entrepreneurs under various Central Government sponsored poverty alleviation and self-employment schemes, some of which are as indicated below:
Prime Minister’s Rozgar Yojana: The Government of India is implementing a subsidy-linked self-employment scheme for providing employment to educated unemployed in the rural and urban areas in the age group of 18 to 35 years through setting up micro enterprises under the scheme. There is no separate target for women but preference is to be given to women beneficiaries and other weaker sections. It is observed that about 80,000 women borrowers have been sanctioned loans by banks to avail of self-employment during the last three years under the scheme. The minimum educational qualification fixed is to pass Std. VIII. The beneficiary is required to bring in 5 per cent as margin money and Government provides subsidy of 15 per cent of the project cost. The ceiling on subsidy is Rs. 7,500/- in States/Union Territories other than North Eastern Region where the ceiling is up to Rs. 15,000/-.
Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana: The objective of this scheme is to bring every assisted family above the poverty line in three years by providing them income generating assets through a mix of bank credit and government subsidy. The monthly income from activity to be undertaken should not be less than Rs. 2,000/- net of repayment to the bank at least in the third year.
It is a holistic programme covering all aspects of self-employment such as organisation of poor into Self Help Groups, training, credit technology, infrastructure and marketing. The scheme will be funded on 75:25 basis by Centre and States and will be implemented by DRDAs through panchayat samitis.
Swarnajayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana: This is operational in all urban and semi-urban towns of India. Among other components, the scheme has two sub-schemes where bank credit is involved, namely Urban Self Employment Programme and Development of Women and Children in Urban Areas (DWCUA). Women are to be assisted to the extent of not less than 30 per cent. It is funded on a 75:25 basis between Centre and State.
Under DWCUA, women beneficiaries may take up self-employment ventures in group. Each group should consist of at least 10 urban poor women. The group is entitled to a subsidy of Rs. 1,25,000/- or 50 per cent of the project cost, whichever is less.
Differential Rate of Interest Scheme: Here, banks provide finance at concessional rate of interest of 4 per cent per annum to the weaker sections of the community, including SC/ST women for engaging in productive and gainful activities so that they could improve their economic conditions.
Self Help Groups: This is a cost-effective mechanism for providing financial services to the unreached and underserved poor and women. Self Help Groups are small economically homogeneous and affinity groups of rural poor voluntarily coming together to save small amounts regularly, to mutually agree to contribute to a common fund, to have collective decision-making and to provide collateral free loans with terms decided by the group at market driven rates.
Broadly, three different models have emerged under the Self Help Group-bank linkage approach in the country:
Model I: where the NGO acts as promoter and facilitator in bringing the SHGs to the door step of the bank branch, which directly provides loan to the SHGs in proportion to the savings.
Model II: where the NGO acts as financial intermediary in the sense that it promotes the SHGs, trains them and also provides them loan after availing the same from the bank in proportion to the savings of the SHGs.
Model III: where the banks themselves promote SHGs without any assistance from the NGOs and also provide loan to the SHGs in proportion to the savings of the groups.
With over 4.5 million poor households accessing bank services, including micro-credit, through their 263 thousand SHGs, the SHG-bank linkage programme is now perhaps the largest micro finance programme of the world in terms of its outreach. The year 2000-2001 witnessed a two-fold jump in the outreach of this programme, both in physical and financial terms.
Support for Setting Up of Women Development Cells: Under this scheme, assistance in the form of grants is being extended to meet 50 per cent of the pay and allowances forming part of the salary of key personnel (lady officer) to be appointed in such cells by the Regional Rural Banks and Cooperative Banks, subject to a maximum of Rs. 75,000/- per cell per annum. So far 91 such cells have been set up in 15 States.
Apart from these and many other schemes, the Ministry of Finance, in consultation with the RBI and other institutions, has suggested certain measures to improve the mindset of our people, some of which are to tackle gender bias, to help banks take initiative for reaching out to women, simplification of procedures, publicity campaigns/awareness programmes, entrepreneurship development programmes and marketing facilities for women, free technical training facilities for poor women, specialised branches for women ?/font>
As Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, rightly put it: "When the poorest, especially woman receive credit, they become economic actors with power. Power to improve not only their own lives, but in a widening circle, to impact the lives of their families, their communities, and their nations." Several steps have been initiated at the Indian Government and other banking institutional levels for strengthening women entrepreneurial capabilities, skill training and making available counselling and consultancy services so as to help them to settle in income generating activities. If this is implemented well, women’s empowerment would soon become a reality leading to gender parity in a few years.
Courtesy: Dr. Deepali Pant Joshi