Set up in the final months of the Congress-led UPA government, the Bharatiya Mahila Bank (BMB) with an initial corpus of Rs 1,000 crores, and the Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK), which was established way back in 1993 to provide micro-loans to women, may be merged, the Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said today
Gandhi said the proposal to merge the two financial institutions and strengthening of credit facility to needy women will be discussed at a meeting with representatives of top banks tomorrow.
She said the performance of Bharatiya Mahila Bank and Rashtriya Mahila Kosh was not satisfactory and that is why government was mulling merger of the two to strengthen the lending facility to women.
"There is already a women's bank in the Finance Ministry which has not worked and we have Rashtriya Mahila Kosh which too has not worked," Gandhi said in an interview.
Listing empowerment of women as a priority area, Gandhi said facilitating funding needs of poor women will be one of the priority initiatives of her Ministry.
"Banks should make it easy to lend to women, not just to self help groups," she said.
The previous UPA government had set up the first all-woman bank in November last year as a step towards empowerment of women. The bank currently has about 25 branches across the country.
The RMK was set up in 1993 under the Women and Child Welfare Ministry with an initial corpus of Rs 31 crore. A senior official at the Ministry said RMK has a total fund of Rs 214.18 crore as on date.
The RMK, which follows a quasi-formal credit delivery mechanism involving simple and minimum procedure, provides micro-finance services without collateral for livelihood and income generation activities and micro enterprises among others.
Elaborating on her priorities, Gandhi said the Ministry was also mulling over a proposal to set up Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) exclusively for women to impart vocational training.
Gandhi said normal ITIs have very few courses for women and that is why her Ministry was moving a proposal to set up such institutes for women.
She said her Ministry was also planning to streamline the functioning of Anganwadis across the country which provide services like post natal care and supplementary nutrition to both children below the age of six as well as pregnant women under Integrated Child Development Services.
There are about 14 lakh Anganwadi centres across the country.
"This is one system that really needs to be worked out. Because they could be the most powerful weapons that we have against malnutrition and for baby care.
"Over the years, nobody has ever paid any attention to them. Infact, in my own constituency, I have been there for 25 years and I didn't even know that Anaganwadis existed. It is that bad. Most Members of Parliament don't know about the Anganwadis," she said.
The Minister said there are cases of alleged irregularities such as fake tenders and substandard food being provided by Anganwadis and there was a need to put in place a mechanism to check such wrong-doings.
"Many of them are accused of selling the food that is given for distribution and that is because there is no checking system in place," she said.
Gandhi said she has called a meeting of representatives from all the states on August 4 to discuss ways to carry out "reforms" in the existing system.
"If I can work that out, that will be a major, major achievement in eradicating malnutrition," she said.