27 January 2011

Food prices up again...

Food prices are once again posing problems for monetary policy, across the globe. A recent article by Luis AV Catão and  Roberto Chang 'Global food prices and inflation targeting' gives an overview of the issues at hand, arguing that 'food tends to have stronger predictive power on global inflation cycles than oil. The problem is more severe in emerging markets where consumption basket weights for food are two or three times larger than in rich nations. Central banks should pay close attention.'
The Reserve Bank of India had flagged this issue sometime back, looking at the structural reasons and a speech by Deputy Governor Subir Gokarn had focused on the changing consumption patterns that had raised the price of proteins, 'Persistent price increases in commodities for which there are no effective substitutes will, other things remaining equal, raise the potential rate of inflation over a period of time. This means that either actual inflation or interest rates will be higher than they would be in the absence of such increases.' Further, 'Rapid economic growth is contributing to the emergence of persistent demand-supply imbalances which, in turn, are making proteins more expensive. In the absence of a significant positive supply shock, this might result in the weakening of the economy's most productive resource - its people.'
Going ahead, the FAO Food Price Index can provide valuable cues to the prices, meanwhile as the FAO points out in the case of food, and Catao and Chang point out in the case of monetary policy response, short term policy actions can disrupt long term stability and coordination across the key players will be crucial to avoid aggravation of the problem world-wide.

19 January 2011

Guest Post- Financial Inclusion in India

Swabhiman (pronounced as  swaa-bhi-maan) meaning self-respect comes from Swa-(meaning Self) and -abhiman (meaning Respect or Pride) in Sanskrit language.

Swabhiman is the new Financial Inclusion Program that Government of India is planning to roll in the year 2011. The program targets opening of 5 crores no-frills accounts by March 2012 spanning over select 73,000 villages. The plan is not just to open accounts, but to keep them active by regular transactions. The basic idea here is to spread financial literacy while achieving financial inclusion. Government plans to use handheld computers and banking correspondent model to achieve scale and efficiency in the program. 

In an interview about Swabhiman, Shri K.V. Eapen, the joint finance secretary of India told media that banks are expected to popularize the electronics benefit transfer (EBT) scheme for efficiency of the program. EBT is mode through which the government currently makes payments to the workers involved in various public welfare schemes. Thus, Swabhiman will provide a platform for banks to launch their products and services like small overdraft facility, remittance, small loans and small deposits to the rural poor.

Swabhiman, though is in planning stage, has some assured benefits for the common man. A common man can now be included in the organized financial sector without the tedious paperwork.  It will not only ensure availing of a variety of financial services at doorstep but also easy enrolment to all public welfare schemes.

 Reaching out at such a grand scale can face a number of challenges that are meticulous in nature. Ranging from connectivity of handheld devices, geographical connectivity to literacy rate of the population can raise issues in smooth implementation of the program.  But, tackling these challenges and bottlenecks is now expected from Indian Government.

Government has surely come a long way since the days of implementing public welfare schemes without proper consideration of ground level realities. This means, the earlier top down approach of govt. towards development is now becoming more and more area specific approach. Increase in variety of work in MG-NREGA, implementation of SGSY- Special plan, launch of  RIDF from NABARD et al are examples of the recent changes that can be seen regarding change in approach of the govt.. These kind of changes are a proof to Governments increased concern and involvement in solving the individual ground level problems which were earlier oblivious at the centre level.

Thus, with a fool proof plan, GoI is all set to launch Swabhiman that will ensure smiles on the faces of those who are still unbanked.

By Chitra Nayak (chitra.nayak@fino.co.in)
About Chitra Nayak: Currently a member of business strategy team at FINO, Chitra Nayak is fond of reading and writing whenever possible. She has done her post graduation from XIMB in rural management and believes that achieving a stabilized bottom of the economic pyramid will ensure a sustained growth of the country.