"The only way we could bring an end to exploitation of simple villagers at the hands of private money-lenders could be by facilitating easy banking services. The government has decided to set up ultra small branches (USB) in every village in the country", Dinesh Kumar Mittal, Union Finance (Banking & Insurance) Secretary said in an exclusive interview to Rediff.com.
The unique scheme is a brainchild of Mittal, who was in Lucknow on a day's visit to urge the state government to extend its cooperation in making the scheme a success.
"To begin with, as many as 100,000 USBs are planned across the country, of which UP will have a major share of about 24,000 branches, that will provide every service that is available in the most modern branch of any other bank in cities and metros", asserted Mittal , who is surely encouraged with the initial response.
"Even though the scheme was launched barely three months ago, as many as 1 crore (10 million) people have opened their accounts across different states including the remote Jammu and Kashmir and the North-Eastern states. Our ultimate goal is to create a USB in each of India's 600,000 villages where we hope to open at least 2.5 crore (25 million) accounts", he added proudly.
Elaborating on the modalities , he said, "The USB will be run by an assistant manager level officer of the nearest nationalised bank branch. He will go once every week to the village to provide banking services from his camp in the local village panchayat office."
Be it the opening of an account, making a withdrawal or deposit, seeking a loan, or even operating a credit card or ATM card , every facility would be made available right there.
The bank official would carry out all functions from his laptop, while cash transactions would be carried out through some local villager, appointed under a contractual arrangement as a business correspondent
"Business correspondent would invariably be picked up from among the local people the village grocer, teacher or any other person volunteering to pitch in", pointed out Mittal.
"Cash for the transactions would be provided by the business correspondent , who would receive instant transfer into his account by the bank", he said.
Asked how would the business correspondent be compensated for his services, he said, "For every transaction, he would be entitled to a nominal commission by the bank, thereby opening avenues for self-employment."
Mittal is confident that the with USB making small loans available for buying cattle, motorcycle, building a home or starting a tiny enterprise, the illiterate village folk would be saved from money lenders.
"I think the biggest service that USBs could do is to save the poor from the age-old exploitation by unscrupulous and unlawful money-lenders", he feels.
About giving loans to landless persons who have no means to provide collateral security, Mittal has devised yet another plan. "We have asked NABARD to promote at least 500,000 self-help groups of landless labour, who will get loans through those self-help groups", he added.