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Arihant Bhandawat *
Even after 60 years of independence, a large section of Indian population still remain unbanked. This malaise has led generation of financial instability and pauperism among the lower income group who do not have access to financial products and services. However, in the recent years the government and Reserve Bank of India has been pushing the concept and idea of financial inclusion.
What is Financial Inclusion in banking ? What is meaning of Financial Inclusion in Indian context ? :
Financial inclusion is the delivery of financial services at affordable costs to vast sections of disadvantaged and low income groups (for example "no frill accounts").
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Why Financial Inclusion in India is Important ?
The policy makers have been focusing on financial inclusion of Indian rural and semi-rural areas primarily for three most important pressing needs:
1. Creating a platform for inculcating the habit to save money – The lower income category has been living under the constant shadow of financial duress mainly because of the absence of savings. The absence of savings makes them a vulnerable lot. Presence of banking services and products aims to provide a critical tool to inculcate the habit to save. Capital formation in the country is also expected to be boosted once financial inclusion measures materialize, as people move away from traditional modes of parking their savings in land, buildings, bullion, etc.
2. Providing formal credit avenues – So far the unbanked population has been vulnerably dependent of informal channels of credit like family, friends and moneylenders. Availability of adequate and transparent credit from formal banking channels shall allow the entrepreneurial spirit of the masses to increase outputs and prosperity in the countryside. A classic example of what easy and affordable availability of credit can do for the poor is the micro-finance sector.
3. Plug gaps and leaks in public subsidies and welfare programmes – A considerable sum of money that is meant for the poorest of poor does not actually reach them. While this money meanders through large system of government bureaucracy much of it is widely believed to leak and is unable to reach the intended parties. Government is therefore, pushing for direct cash transfers to beneficiaries through their bank accounts rather than subsidizing products and making cash payments. This laudable effort is expected to reduce government’s subsidy bill (as it shall save that part of the subsidy that is leaked) and provide relief only to the real beneficiaries. All these efforts require an efficient and affordable banking system that can reach out to all. Therefore, there has been a push for financial inclusion.
Why is financial inclusion needed in India? - (A Graphical Representation )
What are the steps taken by RBI to support financial inclusion?
RBI set up the Khan Commission in 2004 to look into financial inclusion and the recommendations of the commission were incorporated into the mid-term review of the policy (2005–06) and urged banks to review their existing practices to align them with the objective of financial inclusion. RBI also exhorted the banks and stressed the need to make available a basic banking 'no frills' account either with 'NIL' or very minimum balances as well as charges that would make such accounts accessible to vast sections of the population
Of the many schemes and programmes pushed forward by RBI the following need special mention.
A. Initiation of no-frills account – These accounts provide basic facilities of deposit and withdrawal to accountholders makes banking affordable by cutting down on extra frills that are no use for the lower section of the society. These accounts are expected to provide a low-cost mode to access bank accounts. RBI also eased KYC (Know Your customer) norms for opening of such accounts.
B. Banking service reaches homes through business correspondents – The banking systems have started to adopt the business correspondent mechanism to facilitate banking services in those areas where banks are unable to open brick and mortar branches for cost considerations. Business Correspondents provide affordability and easy accessibility to this unbanked population. Armed with suitable technology, the business correspondents help in taking the banks to the doorsteps of rural households.
C. EBT – Electronic Benefits Transfer – To plug the leakages that are present in transfer of payments through the various levels of bureaucracy, government has begun the procedure of transferring payment directly to accounts of the beneficiaries. This “human-less” transfer of payment is expected to provide better benefits and relief to the beneficiaries while reducing government’s cost of transfer and monitoring. Once the benefits starts to accrue to the masses, those who remain unbanked shall start looking to enter the formal financial sector.
What more is to be done for financial inclusion?
Financial inclusion of the unbanked masses is a critical step that requires political will, bureaucratic support and dogged persuasion by RBI. It is expected to unleash the hugely untapped potential of the bottom of pyramid section of Indian economy. Perhaps, financial inclusion can begin the next revolution of growth and prosperity.
* Mr Arihant Bhandawat, is a Freelance content developer. He has BBA( Finance) to his credit and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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