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Banking on women

Banks and financial institutions are wooing women entrepreneurs with many schemes. RAKHEE MOHAN finds the lack of awareness about them as the main hitch.



Women entrepreneurs forging ahead

MANAGING THE finance portfolio has been predominantly a man's ground with the woman left to handles the home economics. In fact, women in general, have never been viewed as credit friendly and so it comes as no surprise that hardly any of the commercial banks in the city have schemes or grants that cater specifically to women. As George, senior manager, Federal Bank, South Branch says, "whatever scheme or loans are available have no gender discriminatory policies. Women too are welcome to avail of loan facilities in the same way as their male counterparts." The only facilities available in most of the banks are, as K. D. Anto, Senior Manager with Bharat Overseas Bank will tell you is, "the Prime Minister Rojgar Yogana (PMRY) and the differential rate of interest (DRI) which is at a concessional rate of 4 per cent. It is the central government that has to formulate any gender specific policies for us to follow," he adds.

New policies

There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for women entrepreneurs. S. Uma Shanmukhi, Asst.Gen. Manager of State Bank of India, M.G.Road, says, "in our unique Stree Shakti package we are trying to tap the potential of half of our neglected population's entrepreneurial skills." To qualify for this scheme, an enterprise should have more than 50 per cent of its share capital owned by woman. The margin will be lowered by 5 per cent and the interest rate will be lowered by 0.5 per cent in case the loan exceeds Rs. 2 lakhs. Moreover, no collateral security is required for loans up to Rs. 5 lakhs in case of tiny sector units.

SIDBI or the Small Industries Development Bank of India, at Ravipuram, has since its inception been assisting the entire spectrum of the SSI sector including the tiny, village and cottage industries through suitable schemes tailored to meet the requirements of the setting up of new projects, expansion, diversification, modernisation and rehabilitation of existing units. Mr. M. V. Babu, Deputy General Manager, says, "Ours is a three dimensional approach system to lending assistance. One is indirect assistance to small units through primary lending institutions, second is direct assistance to small units and last development and support services." They have two women specific schemes. One is Mahila Vikas Nidhi (MVN), where well-managed NGO's are having a good track record and linkages with financial institutions are eligible borrowers. It is a specially designed fund for economic development of women, providing them avenues for training and employment opportunities.

Loans and grants for projects

A judicious mix of loan and grant, the basic activity involves setting up of Training-cum-Production centres. Mr. Babu further adds, "our assistance is basically catalytic and its only the really well run NGO's that can secure grants." Assistance may be in the form of loans and repayment is normally within 5 years and initial moratorium of one, one-and-a- half-year. Then there is the Mahila Udhyam Nidhi for enterprising women entrepreneurs for setting up new projects in tiny small-scale sector and rehabilitation of viable sick SSI (Small Scale Industry) units. It serves the purpose of eliminating gap in equity. The scheme is operated through SFCs' twin function IDCs/scheduled commercial banks /scheduled urban co-operative banks. The cost of the project shouldn't exceed Rs.10 lakhs.

Some exclusive schemes

The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) "seeks to remove the barriers of credit to women," says Venkat Subramanian, Asst. General Manager, Kochi. It aims to treat women as risk-free, bankable clients, provides linkages along with credit, identifies appropriate economic activities for women and promotes women Self Help Groups (SHGs) and links them with the formal banking system. They have evolved exclusive schemes for women such as Assistance to Rural Women in Non-Farm Development (ARWIND), assistance for Marketing of Non-Farm Products of Rural Women (MAHIMA) and support in the form of grant assistance for setting up `Women Development Cells' by RRBs/ Co-operative Banks. ARWIND has both credit and grant components. It is envisaged that women groups organised or sponsored by a suitable agency could avail of bank credit normally not exceeding Rs. 50,000 per women member for an own account activity or group activity, with 100 per cent re-finance support from NABARD. Mahima seeks to create a `niche' or `pro-women' market and assists in credit by way of 100 per cent re-finance upto Rs. 10 lakhs.

Even though much needs to done on this front than showing smiling faces of women on brochures of schemes, women haven't exploited the ones available, because of lack of awareness of their existence.

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