The Swabhimaan Financial Inclusion Campaign is, at its core, dedicated to empowering the common man. It holds great promise as it is one of the first campaigns -to make targeted and concerted efforts -to ensure ease of access for the Aam Aadmi to the organised financial system.
While India is home to one of the largest banking networks in the world, it is a matter of great concern -that only 40% of our people have access to banking services. This revolutionary campaign seeks to correct that imbalance - by establishing a new medium to ensure greater availability of a whole spectrum of financial services and organised banking, to all our citizens, regardless of which part of the country they may reside in.
The UPA Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, firmly believes that the benefits of economic growth must reach the Aam Aadmi at every level. The policies of the government are specifically designed to ensure inclusive growth, particularly of the marginalised and weakest sections without whose empowerment, our country’s progress will always be impaired.
Such empowerment must include access to cost effective, trouble-free and safe avenues for savings, credit, remittances and micro-insurance. Unless we provide adequate safeguards to protect savings- and to extend timely credit, we will also not be able to deliver other essential services, such as education and health care -which need reliable credit and savings institutions.
One of the most important objectives of the campaign will be to enable small and marginal farmers to obtain credit at lower rates from banks and other financial institutions, insulating them from exploitation by moneylenders. Village artisans will be able to procure their working capital rapidly and effectively. I believe that this will lead to the emergence of the rural entrepreneur.
I am also happy to note that Information Technology provides the foundation for this campaign. This is the vision that Rajiv Gandhi had for the social applications of modern technology. The ‘Aadhar’ programme that has been launched and that will be linked with Swabhimaan, is very much in keeping with this vision.
In the last few years, there has been a true revolution in the use of mobile telephones across the length and breadth of our country. I hope this technology too will find an application in this evolving programme. I would also like to recall here the great success that women’s self-help groups have had in some states through linkages with banks. They too should form an integral part of this campaign.
At the same time, we need to recognise a weakness in some of our most revolutionary flagship programmes, in that, the intended beneficiaries are not sufficiently informed about them, about their rights and how best to derive advantage of what they have to offer. I hope that beyond the provision of financial services, the Swabhimaan campaign will also seek to impart financial education and financial literacy, through communication and training, to the people it is seeking to benefit. This will enable them to make better and more responsible financial decisions.
The campaign should also ensure that the banks treat their beneficiaries as their ‘mitra’ or friend. To this end, Swabhimaan should aim to simplify existing procedures for availing banking services, so that first time users are not intimidated or overwhelmed by cumbersome routine or the regulatory needs of the system. I would like to urge our bankers to take up this task with a sense of responsibility and understanding and exercise courtesy and respect, especially towards small borrowers in rural areas.
I am certain that once these networks are established, other banks in India will follow. I am told that the outreach through this branchless model aims to cover 73,000 villages by March of 2012. This is an impressive target that will almost double the reach of the banking system in India.
It is my sincere hope that Swabhimaan becomes a mass movement that will fulfill our commitment of bringing economic and social prosperity to our villages that make up our great nation.
Excerpts from UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi’s address at the launch of Swabhimaan, February 2011, New Delhi
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of INCLUSION. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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