Thursday, March 31, 2016

Financial Inclusion in India

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Mr Arun Jaitley, Indian Minister for Finance is speaking on "The new economics of financial inclusion in India". In his introduction the ANU Chancellor pointed out India had the fastest growing economy. The Chancellor also commented Australia and India shared a commitment to rules based international order, which was clearly a criticism directed at the government of China over the Spratly Islands dispute.

Interestingly the event started with a message from the President of India citing the introduction of electronic welfare cards as an aid to inclusion. The Cashless Debit Card
has been controversial in Australia. India has an identity number called Aadhaar intended to be used for welfare. One other curious use is to record how many public employees are at work (currently 91319 employees are using 2833 computers).

The Minister commented on the increase in the number of phones in India in his lifetime. He also commented that the Indian services sector is doing best, manufacturing "could do better" but agriculture was "the real challenge". The suggested that concentrating on equitable distribution without increasing production was not sufficient.

The Minister advocated a market based model to increase production, but this will not on its own take care of the poor. He wants to bring people into the formal banking system, insurance and pension. He acknowledged that while the insurance scheme was working the pension scheme outside the government would than more work. He also claimed success for the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Bank (or MUDRA Bank) for micro-finance. However, the scheme started less than a year ago and other Microfinance schemes have had problems. Shortly to be launched is "Stand-up India" with small loans for disadvantaged groups.

One topic I could not find in the minister's speech was the importance of education for inclusion. However, his 2016 budget speech included a Digital Depository for School Certificates and College Degrees and Entrepreneurship Education and Training through Massive Open Online Courses.

ps: I have proposed Australia and India can cooperate on e-learning to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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