Dozens of women of Tamil immigrant households of Dharavi, central Mumbai, gathered around the branch of a commercial bank at Bhuri Tower, opposite Kamraj School, on 90-ft Road on Thursday. They were carrying bead necklaces and candles, their own handiwork, and waiting to welcome ‘madam’ Rachel Lomax, deputy governor of the Bank of England, who was in the city to pay a special visit to the firstcommercial bank branch in Asia’s largest slum.
Mint had first reported that Indian Bank would bring economic mainstream to Dharavi doorstep in its 14 February edition.
Shanti, a member of Nirman—a non-government organization that caters to the activities of Tamil immigrants —could barely contain her excitement on seeing Lomax.
“I now have a bank account of my own where I can save money for my child’s education. My bank has also given me a card which they say I can use to draw money any time I need it,” she told the deputy governor, taking out her brand new ATM card from a pouch.
Lomax came to the Indian Bank branch with some representatives of the British High Commission in Mumbai. The objective of her visit was to comprehend Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Y.V. Reddy’s idea of financial inclusion symbolized by the Indian Bank’s branch at Dharavi.
For generations, thousands of Dharavi inhabitants have not had access to formal banking. They are used to stashing away cash in a corner of the kitchen or below the bed, most often a 10ftx10ft room with a cooking platform and gas stove in one corner. Now, they have started opening zero-balance accounts with Indian Bank. While such accounts do not offer facilities like unlimited branch visits and too many cheque book leaves, they are still happy that a beginning has been made. Many self-help groups have already applied to the fortnight-old branch, seeking finance to support their activities.
For close to an hour, Lomax stayed at the branch, speaking to its employees and customers. She glanced through applications from self-help groups seeking money from the bank and checked with the customers whether they were happy with the branch’s services. She also asked staff how the zero-balance, no-frill accounts worked. Before leaving the branch, she opened the brand new visitor’s book and scribbled: “It’s a heartening effort. Keep up the good work.”
Asia’s largest slum provides livelihood to a population of over a million—mostly immigrants from Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Spread over an area of 1.75sq. km., Dharavi bustles with small-scale economic establishments like tanneries, eateries and ready-made-garment manufacturing units.
Despite accounting for an annual turnover of Rs2640 crore ($600 million) from these activities, no bank came forward to open a branch here. Only one cooperative bank, Abhudaya Bank, has a branch here while State Bank of India, has a branch on the outskirts of the slum.
Jyoti Basu, a 30-something medical store owner, could not be happier. “Till now, I had to travel 3km to reach the closest bank. Nobody was ready to (let me) open a current account or even a savings account, the moment I mentioned I was a resident of Dharavi,” he told Lomax. Many more Dharavi residents came to open their ‘vikas savings khata’ and say “Namaste” to Lomax.