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A six year tenacious battle by Delhi-based RTI activist Commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra has resulted in the government facilitating eIPO for payment of RTI fees in 2,496 central government offices
Since 22 March 2013, only Indians abroad had the facility of paying Right to Information (RTI) fee online, for their e-RTI applications. Since 13 February 2014, all of us living in India too can use online RTI by paying the fee through electronic Indian Postal Order (eIPO) in 2,496 central government’s public authorities. As for public authorities of state governments, you can pay your RTI fees online but you need to take out a print-out of the eIPO and attach it to your RTI application.
According to RTI activist Commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra, who single-handedly has pursued this campaign since the last six years, there is much enthusiasm for the eIPO facility, but a mass public awareness needs to be created through media and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the field of RTI.
The eIPO facility is important in terms of national savings too. As per a costing exercise undertaken in 2011-2012, the operational cost of a postal order is Rs37.45. This information came as a response to an RTI filed by an activist to the Department of Posts on 18 October 2013. An eIPO now comes virtually free, besides relieving citizens of the inconvenience of standing in long queues at Post Offices to procure an IPO.
In order to purchase the eIPO online, go to the e-Post Office Portal https://www.epostoffice.gov.in or India Post web-site www.indiapost.gov.in. A link for e-Post Office has been provided to create his/ her profile for the first time. Both Debit and Credit cards of any Bank powered by Visa/ Master can be used.
The Department of Posts, which has created this facility, spells out the following salient features of eIPO:
Calling this as true participatory governance, Cmde Batra says the government responded positively to suggestions made by a citizen. So, what did it take to make eIPO, a reality? Following is the chronology of Cmde Batra’s campaign, to whom, all Indians in India and abroad need to thank.
Earlier stories in Moneylife:
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
Chances are that RBI may announce the list of seven successful applicants, four from the private sector and three from the government-owned companies
According to the press reports, the Central Board of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is scheduled to meet in New Delhi on 7th March, for the post-budget discussions, where finance minister P Chidambaram will address the meeting. It is unlikely that the Bimal Jalan Panel's recommendations on the new bank licence will be taken up in this meeting, though, on the sidelines, it is likely to be discussed, off the record!
It may be recalled that the Bank of India hosted Indian Bank's Association (IBA)’s annual banking conference (BANCON), in November 2013, when Chidambaram is reported to have suggested that RBI should not issue new banking licences to entities that clone the existing banks!
"In January 2014 new banking licenses will be issued and I wish it would be given to banks with innovative or different models of banking. We need different kinds of banks to cater to different segments in our country. And I would regret if 'clone' banks are given new licences," the finance minister had said.
Chidambaram was emphatic in saying "we need banks which cater to communities, to people living in tribal areas, a different bank to cater to North East, to cater to urban poor, farmer families and cater to woman". Already, the first major break-through occurred with the establishment of Bharatiya Mahila Bank recently.
The first challenge for Indian banks is to become truly universal so that everyone in the country has access to banking services. Calling bankers to focus on reality of India, Chidambaram had said the quality of service and innovative products are being used to serve small number of customers from big cities. "At the same time majority of the population do not have access to banking system. Access to banking is denied to those living in rural areas and only small percentage is able to use banking services," he had said.
The finance minister said, "For most of the people from rural areas, it is either bank or moneylender; there is no other source of funding. Almost 70% of rural population have access to just 9% of the total credit provided by banks in India. This needs to be changed. Banks must cater to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and small and individual borrowers from rural areas,
To recapitulate, in 1969, fourteen large banks in the country were nationalised followed by six more in 1980. Subsequently, RBI gave licences to 12 private banks, in two phases, including conversion of a cooperative bank into a commercial bank. In the second phase, licences were issued to Yes Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank way back in 2004. So, it is exactly a decade now, the RBI will be embarking on issuing additional licences in the banking sector, as the volume has grown to an estimated Rs80 lakh crore, and is still growing!
The initial press report indicates that the Bimal Jalan Panel has submitted its findings and it has made its recommendations to the RBI. No names have been given as the selection and announcement will be made by the RBI in due course.
It appears that there are a few serious contenders from government-owned organizations, such as IDFC, IFCI, LIC Housing Finance, Power Finance Corporation, Rural Electrification and India Post. All of them have extensive "financial" experience, not necessarily in the manner expected of a bank in the commercial sense, as we know them. But, there is abundant financially experienced bank talent available in the country who could be employed, should they be offered a banking licence! Also, once the licence is approved in the favour of the applicant, it would naturally follow that they would have to go through the standard formalities and establish the institutions, starting, perhaps, with the name and so on.
In the corporate field, there are a few applicants Reliance Capital, Aditya Birla Nuvo, Shriram Capital, Bajaj Finserv and L&T Finance.
In the writer's opinion, chances are that RBI may announce the list of seven successful applicants, four from the private sector and three from the government-owned companies. Taking into mind the specific reference that Chidambaram made in November, chances of Bandhan Financial Services Pvt Ltd, which is the only one presently operating extensively in the North East, are high. It may be a sure winner in the first lot! Other strong contenders who may go through the first list could be from Aditya Birla Nuvo, Reliance Capital, L&T Finance, IDFC/IFCI, LIC Housing Finance and Power Finance Corporation/Rural Electrification. Most of these companies have sufficient resources and experience at their disposal.
In so far as foreign banks are concerned, they would still be able to enter the Indian banking sector, as the RBI has permitted wholly owned subsidiary of foreign banks to acquire domestic private sector banks as well as set up branches anywhere in the country. RBI framework stipulates that the initial minimum paid up voting equity capital for a wholly owned subsidiary would be Rs500 crore for new entrants. So, foreign banks, such as Standard Chartered, Citibank and HSBC have an opportunity to play much bigger roles in India; they could even "acquire" small private banks in the above fashion.
The Indian economy is growing bigger by the day and expeditious issue of new banking licences would help to set up these institutions; the RBI must ensure that the new licensees are obliged to take care of rural requirements and be available to serve people in small towns and villages.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)