Soon, India would be one of the first countries to set up a bank not only targeted at women but also run by women. Indonesia, with a few financial institutions targeted at women, may only come as a distant second since the facilities do not qualify as a full-fledged bank.
While unveiling the Union Budget for 2013-14, finance minister P Chidambaram said the public sector bank would support women self-help groups (SHGs) and address gender-related issues of empowerment and financial inclusion.
In a rare move, leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Congress president Sonia Gandhi stood united in welcoming the move.
Expected to be launched by the end of this year, the bank would be have an initial capital of Rs. 1,000 crore.
"Women are heading many banks today, including two public sector banks, but there is no bank that exclusively serves women," Chidambaram said.
The minister said that he expected to obtain necessary approvals and banking licence by October.
"Anything that helps woman to access finance is good. In fact, we should have a policy which focuses on the issue. Not just this particular bank, all banks must take steps to make loans available to women, especially in rural areas," said Naina Lal Kidwai, country head, HSBC India.
Kidwai said that women in general often found it difficult to access credit and the issue needed to be addressed.
TM Bhasin, chairman and managing director, Indian Bank, also hailed the move. He said such a bank would help in uplift of women in general.
Though the bank would primarily lend to women, Chidambaram said, deposits would be taken from male customers as well.