Launching his government’s first big ticket social welfare programme, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday gave a call for eradicating what he termed as “financial untouchability” of the poor by opening at least one bank account for every family in the country in less than six months.
This essentially means opening a whopping 7.5 crore bank accounts, the process for which was kickstarted on Thursday with 1.5 crore accounts — 50 lakh over the intended target on inaugural day. As per government figures, around 10 crore families do not have a bank account.
“If crores of Indians are outside the ambit of organised financial services because they do not have a bank account even after 68 years of independence, I call it financial untouchability. Gandhiji ended social untouchability, it is our mission to eradicate this kind of untouchability now to fight poverty,” Modi said after launching the programme.
While the initial aim was to include every beneficiary in the programme within one year, the deadline was advanced as Modi, who announced the scheme in his Independence Day speech at Red Fort, expressed his desire for the process to be concluded by the next Republic Day.
“Banks were nationalised in 1969 after weaving a lot of dreams before the country. We were told that this would benefit the poor. But I regret to say that in reality, even after 68 years of independence, not even 68 per cent of the population is covered by the banking system. This is also a form of untouchability,” said Modi.
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The Jan Dhan Yojana provides for a free zero-balance bank account with a debit card, Rs 1 lakh accidental insurance policy and Rs 30,000 free medical insurance cover for those who enroll before January 26. Depending on the performance of the accounts in the first six months, banks will later extend a Rs 5,000 overdraft facility, thereby turning the debit card into a kind of credit card.
The debit card is being issued by RuPay of the National Payments Corporation of India. Modi said a mammoth initiative like this would go a long way in granting global acceptance to the RuPay brand, in line with international retail credit giants like Visa and others.
In the subsequent phases of the programme, the Indian postal department’s network will also be roped in to provide banking services in the remote areas. The system will also become a channel for remitting micro pension.
“Banks queue up at the houses of the rich to extend loans at cheaper rates. Nothing’s wrong with that. It’s business. But they do not extend the same courtesy to the poor. So the poor take loans from rich money-lenders at five times the market rate. Many poor farmers fail to repay because the loan is so expensive and then some of them commit suicide when all is lost. This is a vicious cycle. This programme is the first step towards breaking that cycle,” Modi said.
Over 77,000 camps were held across India to open bank accounts. The scheme was simultaneously launched at multiple places by Chief Ministers, several Union Ministers, including Information Minister Prakash Javadekar at Pune, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad at Chennai, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at Bhopal, Home Minister Rajnath Singh at Lucknow and HRD Minister Smriti Irani at Surat.
Modi said he had sent emails to each of the 7.5 lakh employees of public sector banks, urging them to get into a “mission mode” to make this drive a success. “Never in the history of Indian banks or even insurance companies have 1.5 crore people been insured or accounts opened in one single day. It is a record. This shows that if we have faith in our abilities and set a time-bound objective, this country can achieve whatever it wants,” said Modi, amid applause from an audience that comprised mostly bank employees, chiefs of all public sector and other major private banks and bigwigs of the financial sector.