Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
Existence of Financial Exclusion in danger
Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana was launched in 2014 to provide an impetus for financial inclusion. The mandate is not restricted to opening accounts but to provide easier access to banks through the issuing of RuPay cards.
There are other features of the scheme which includes providing small-value overdrafts based on satisfactory conduct of account, availability of low-cost life insurance (Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana) and accident insurance (Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana) and pension scheme (Atal Pension Yojana).
However, disabled people face numerous inconvenience while availing the banking facilities. It has come to notice that many banks refrain from offering insurance to people with disabilities or they are refused loans.
The situation is grim in rural areas with regards to opportunities of financial inclusion to all, especially after demonetisation.
The RBI has repeatedly issued circulars to all scheduled commercial banks across the country to provide banking facilities to customers with disabilities at a par with non-disabled people. Yet, such attitude of the banks for the people with disabilities has made financial inclusion an illusion for them.
Hurdles in accessing basic banking services
It is an unfortunate reality that the banking industry has classified its customers where the customers suitable for banking business have been prioritised. It can be for customer needs, interest in certain product features, or customer profitability.
There are many hurdles faced by disabled people to access banking services. Many commercial banks have archaic rules in their statute books which debar people with disabilities from opening independent accounts.
The disabled persons are required to produce witness everytime they visit banks to make online transactions through real-time gross settlement and national electronic funds transfer.
Hence, many disabled people, especially in rural areas find it difficult to sign bank documents, and are denied ATM cards, cheque books and Internet banking.
The disabled customers are discriminated against by the bank officials in this age of technology where banks are bringing about tailor-made financial products and services for general customers.
The common perception is said to be existing among the bank officials that disabled people do not require banking products and services.
This is evident from the fact that most bank websites are inaccessible to the disabled people as they are perceived to be dependent on their family members. They are seen as lacking independent agency to make their own decisions.
It has been observed that in rural areas, mostly the banks don’t comply if a visually impaired person or a person with low vision walks into a bank to open an account.
They are insisted by the bank officials that the person should open a joint bank account with a person with sight, or open an account with no ATM card/cheque book facility or both.
For a person with hearing impairments and intellectual disabilities, the situation is worse. If a deaf person visits a bank for availing the benefits of a scheme or service, the branches mostly lack the manpower to understand or interpret sign language.
The worst hit are the people with psycho-social disabilities where a guardian is required to sign a contract on their behalf.
This move has further aggravated the problem. The disabled people, called ‘divyangs’ have to stand in long queues outside ATMs and banks facing difficulty in availing cash and services in such environment, especially in rural areas.
Though the government has proposed that there should be separate queues for persons with disabilities and for senior citizens, the reality is starkly different.
Most ATMs remain inaccessible despite the RBI stating that “banks have to take necessary steps to provide all existing ATMs/future ATMs with ramps so that wheel chair users/persons with disabilities can easily access them”.
According to a 2005 study by Handicap International, fewer than 1% of the clients of microfinance institutions, dedicated to serving the world’s financially excluded people, were persons with disabilities (PWDs).
In 2007, India ratified the UN Disability Convention where the Convention provides that states that ratify it should enact laws and measures to improve the rights of the disabled and also abolish laws, regulations and practices that discriminate against the disabled. Following this, RBI passed various circulars regarding providing ease of financial accessibility to people with disabilities.
Yet right now, financial inclusion seems to be difficult for disabled people as banks and companies that offer insurance policies are not yet ready to accept disabled people as respected clients. Even the monthly state sponsored pension hardly reaches on time with the disabled people even after knowing that it is their sole meagre monetary support. Thus, there is a need to provide the disabled persons with adequate financial services.
It is necessary for RBI and government to take punitive action against those banks and officials who fail to follow RBI’s guidelines for providing banking facilities to disabled people.
Also, special basic training on disability and communication be made part of syllabus for training of banking officials, and that regular interactions and training is encouraged for bank officials.
The digital banking, especially mobile and internet banking should be made disabled friendly. There should be appointment of an accessibility officer across all branches who is given specialized training in matters relating to accessibility. This would go a long way in ensuring that financial inclusion leaves no one behind and the upheld the spirit of Article 41 of the Constitution (Right to public assistance for the disabled).
Connecting the dots:
Financial inclusion still remains a distant dream for many, especially for persons with disabilities. Critically analyse the problems faced by divyangs and possible solutions to it.