New Delhi, Feb. 28: Only for you, Ladies.
Finance minister P. Chidambaram can look back with a smile on this day that saw him bring a smile to the faces of three women who play a pivotal role in the affairs of the country.
“Can we…?” the minister said, before rounding off with a flourish — “I think we can” — as Meira Kumar, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj smiled.
Chidambaram had just proposed a “women’s only” bank, one of the schemes he announced today for the gender as he unveiled his budget plans for 2013-14.
“Women are at the head of many banks today, including two public sector banks, but there is no bank that exclusively serves women. Can we have a bank that lends mostly to women and women-run businesses, that supports women SHGs (self-help groups) and women’s livelihood, that employs predominantly women, and that addresses gender-related aspects of empowerment and financial inclusion? I think we can,” Chidambaram said.
As he spoke, the cameras focused on the Lok Sabha Speaker, the UPA chairperson and the leader of the Opposition in the lower House.
The public sector banks that Chidambaram alluded to are Bank of India and Allahabad Bank. Chairperson V.R. Iyer heads the first, Subhalaxmi Panse the other.
Chidambaram said the women’s bank would be given an initial capital of Rs 1,000 crore. The necessary approvals and licence, he hoped, should come by October.
The bank wasn’t the only bonanza on offer for women. The government will set up a Rs 1,000-crore corpus under the “Nirbhaya Fund” for women’s safety and empowerment.
“Recent incidents have cast a long, dark shadow on our liberal and progressive credentials,” Chidambaram said, perhaps alluding to the December 16 bus gang rape. “As more women enter public space — for education or work or access to services or leisure — there are more reports of violence against them.
“We stand in solidarity with our girl children and women. And we pledge to do everything possible to empower them and to keep them safe and secure.”
Gender budgeting, first introduced in 2005-06, collates expenditure by all departments on women-related projects. Today’s gender budget proposals saw a nearly 10.2 per cent hike to Rs 97,134 crore from Rs 88,143 crore last year.
The women and child ministry has been asked to come up with schemes that would address problems like discrimination. A sum of Rs 200 crore has been set aside for the work to begin.
The finance minister announced loans at a concessional rate of 6 per cent for handloom weavers, indirectly contributing to women’s welfare. “The handloom sector is in distress. A very large proportion of handloom weavers are women and belong mainly to the backward classes,” he said.
He announced a concession for women passengers flying in from abroad. They can carry duty-free gold items worth up to Rs 1 lakh. The cap for men is Rs 50,000.
The minister also proposed to set aside Rs 1,000 crore for a skill-development scheme for youths.