If there is one measure this budget will stand out for, it will arguably be the announcement to set up "India's first Women's Bank as a public sector bank".
"I am very happy that this has been announced as it will help poor women in the country to have access to banking services, specially voluntary saving services," says Jayshree Vyas, Managing Director of SEWA Bank, an urban cooperative bank focused on women since the last 40 years.
She, however, feels nothing has been done in the budget to boost the microfinance sector, which is already facing a severe credit crunch.
For microfinance institutions, the finance minister said: "SIDBI set up the India Microfinance Equity Fund in 2011-12 with budgetary support of Rs 100 crore to provide equity and quasi-equity to Microfinance Institutions (MFI). An amount of Rs 104 crore has been committed to 37 MFIs. I have allocated Rs 100 crore to the IME Fund in the budget and I now propose to provide another sum of Rs 100 crore to the Fund." This most feel, is hardly adequate for a sector that has a total loan portfolio of around Rs 19,000 crore, and before the sector's crisis of 2010, had the potential to reach as much as Rs 33,000 crore.
But, as far as the women's bank is concerned, the finance minister said: "There is no bank that exclusively serves women. Can we have a bank that lends mostly to women and women-run businesses, that supports women SHGs and women's livelihood, that employs predominantly women, and that addresses gender related aspects of empowerment and financial inclusion? I think we can. I therefore propose to set up India's first Women's Bank as a public sector bank and I shall provide Rs 1,000 crore as initial capital. I hope to obtain the necessary approvals and the banking licence by October, 2013."