Despite progress, India has a long way to go in digital and financial inclusion: W20
"While the Jan Dhan Scheme may have brought in an additional 310 million Indians into the banking system between 2014-18, the extent to which they have been 'meaningfully included' into the finance system is not very clear," said W-20 spokesperson Anita Gurumurthy
Despite significant progress in the Digital India campaign, India still has a long way to go when it comes to growth in financial inclusion, in particular that of women, an Indian delegate to the W-20, which represents women from G-20 countries, said.
In its first recommendation paper on Digital Inclusion, the W20 has called on the G20 member states to take coordinated action to make digital transformation more inclusive by fostering women's participation in the digital sector and closing the digital gender divide in the access, development and use of digital technologies.
"While the Jan Dhan Scheme may have brought in an additional 310 million Indians into the banking system between 2014-18, the extent to which they have been 'meaningfully included' into the finance system is not very clear," W-20 spokesperson Anita Gurumurthy told PTI.
Gurumurthy is also the executive director of Bangalore-based IT for Change (ITfC) and Delegate of India for the W20.
"There have been a number of bumps on the road," with regard to meeting the welfare objectives of the Jan Dhan financial scheme that seeks to universalise access to the banking system by enabling one member of every below poverty line household to open zero balance bank accounts, she said.
While this scheme aims to fix two problems with one stroke -- corruption in the last mile of welfare delivery and opening up affordable access to financial services such as insurance and credit for the previously 'unbanked' sections of the population – she said media and civil society organisations have highlighted a number of unjustifiable exclusions from welfare delivery because of errors in the seeding and linking of Aadhaar numbers with bank accounts.
In its "W20 Argentina 2018 Communiqué on Digital Inclusion", the group urged G-20 countries to develop holistic and cross-sectoral policies that abolish the barriers to women's access and promote use of digital technologies, especially in rural areas.
This should be done with a focus on accessibility, affordability, safety and security, digital skills and availability of relevant content and services, taking into account women's diversity, the communique said.
The communique urges G-20 countries to promote initiatives that boost equal participation of women and girls in STEM studies and digital-intensive work to ensure that women participate and lead in the design, development and governance of digital technologies, as well as entrepreneurs in the digital sector.
"Ensure that all analyses of the future of work, including education needs and demands for new skills, are performed with a view to gender balance, improving social protection and assessing job quality," it said.
Women20 also called on the G20 members states to collect, analyse, track supply and demand data disaggregated by sex on access and usage of digital technologies and on the presence of women in STEM related courses, careers and in leadership positions in the digital sector.
"Data collection should apply international guidelines, be cross-referenced with other socio-economic characteristics, comparable among countries and over time and shared ensuring data protection and privacy," it said.
Responding to a question, Gurumurthy said there was no evidence that the Jan Dhan scheme has led to expanded access to credit for small borrowers. The share of small borrowers (individuals with outstanding loans below 2,00,000 INR) in total credit has been falling since 2002, and this has continued to decline even after the introduction of the Jan Dhan scheme, she added.
Similarly, while the Jan Dhan scheme has contributed to an increase in the number of women holding bank accounts, it is not very clear if it has expanded their access to financial services, Gurumurthy said.
In fact, a 2017 research study by the Women's World Banking group has revealed that only 38 per cent of Indian women have access to a formal bank account, most of these accounts are barely used, she said.
India, she said, was far behind the other G-20 countries with respect to availability of ICT infrastructure and level of ICT access and use.
"In fact, when we compare rankings of all G20 countries on the access and use sub-indices of ITU's ICT Development Index (2017), we find that India is at the bottom of the table," Gurumurthy added.