But some fear that it may end up as another public sector unit

A women’s bank has been one of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s more popular suggestions in the Union budget for 2013-14, but the only worry is that it shouldn’t create more bureaucratic hassles for women or end up as another public sector undertaking.

Endorsement has come from many quarters.

Reema Nanavaty, director of Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), told The Hindu from Ahmedabad she was happy about the proposal. “It is a recognition that women are bankable. We hope poor women are included, and it will be an inclusive organisation,” she said.

SEWA, which runs a fully fledged cooperative bank for women, caters to the unorganised sector, which is at the receiving end of mainstream banking. “We would have appreciated had the government recognised our bank too,” Ms. Nanavaty said.

But she was apprehensive that the proposed bank might end up like the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) or the Small Industries Development Bank of India (Sidbi) or another other PSU.

She said poor women should have access to the bank and the government should try to increase their participation, the key to the success of any bank.

Nandita Shah, co-founder of Akshara Resource Centre, which works with women and youth, said the existing banks should extend loans to women, instead of creating an all-new institution. “Are we looking at job creation or easy access to credit and banking facilities for women? If women still have to fill up forms in triplicate and go through the red tape, it will not be user-friendly,” she said. “We opposed all women police stations for this reason; it doesn’t solve the main problems.”

Chetna Gala Sinha, founder chairperson of the MaanDeshi Mahila Sahakari Bank Ltd. in the drought-prone Satara, said the bank was started to help rural women, who did not approach the mainstream banks. She welcomed the proposal and said delivery of services would be the main problem. The USP of MaanDeshi was that it took banking to the doorstep of its customers and uses wireless handheld devices for transactions. “The main reason we started the bank in 1997 was that women wanted to save, and they had nowhere to go to put their money. These are women from the shepherd community; they can’t understand English or Hindi. Even now, for direct cash transfers, women are paying Rs.50 to get their forms filled and another Rs.500 as banks don’t permit zero balance accounts,” Ms. Sinha said.

Aditi Kothari, executive vice-president of DSP BlackRock Mutual Fund, hailed the plan, saying research had shown that women were not confident of making financial decisions. They would feel more confident if they could walk into a bank where people would listen and empathise with them. Ms. Kothari’s Winvestor’ initiative is aimed at making women more aware of personal financial matters and issues. “The PSU bank will be good because it will help women … make their own decisions. Research says women are more comfortable with women managers or advisers. Also, a bank run by women means they can go there without a male member of the family,” she said.

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