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The Economic Times

Rajasthan acts Bhamashah, PNB feasts on public money

JAIPUR: The ambitious Bhamashah Financial Empowerment Scheme launched by the previous Vasundhara Raje government may not have brought unbankables into banking net, it certainly has gifted the banker of this scheme Punjab National Bank with a booty of Rs 161 crore which has been parked with it in the names of finanacially weaker women of the state.

Call it the callousness of Rajasthan government or helplessness of aam aadmi, Public sector bank Punjab National Bank (PNB) is blatantly using public money to expand its advance portfolio.

The country's third-largest lender is enjoying the exchequer money after the scheme was mired into political controversy following the change of power in the state. The Ashok Gehlot led new government stopped the scheme and sent it for review to a sub cabinet committe. As result, the bank is not allowing the account holders to withdraw the amount.

The money which was aimed at the financial inlcusion of financially weaker women is neither being utilised by the beneficiaries nor by the government in public interest. The scheme promised a deposit of Rs 1500 to every woman-accountholder and a health insurance of Rs 30000.

The project began in the first week of August 2008 and PNB has so far opened 25.38 lakh accounts out of the targeted 40 lakh financially weak families across 25 districts. It has transferred Rs 1500 each to 10.73 lakh account holders while opened more than 15 lakh accounts without any deposit.

Under the scheme, the account holders were to be issued biometric cards to access the money. The bank so far has issued 8,688 biometric cards. But even card holders could not operate their account as there is neither any branch of Punjab National Bank in the village nor the Bhamashah centre for digital transcation as mentioned in the scheme.

Punjab National Bank general manager S P Singh told ET that the project is under scrutiny of the state governemnt. "A five-minister committee is reviewing the project. Fate of the project will now depend on the report of the committee," he said.

On the other hand government officials are tightlipped about the fate of this scheme. "It's now a political issue. Public welfare is on the back burner. Even if this scheme gets through. It will be repackaged and renamed as per the conevenience of the new government," says an official of finance department.

Whatever the case may be, indecisiveness of the state government is costing dear to everyone. It's a set back to those who were shown dreams of holding a bank account, a tragedy for public whose hard earned money is being used to play the political game of supremacy and a loss of over 40 lakh customers for the bank.
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