Finance Minister P. Chidambaram rides the wave announcing special programmes for women. However, the announcement of a public sector bank exclusively for women is an admission that existing public sector banks does not treat women equally.
That women are discriminated against by banks and that they are not getting adequate banking services is a shame. This is when one of the premier banks like the ICICI Bank is headed by a woman. The government has been able to cater to senior citizens to some extent through regulation. (They still face problems in using schemes such as reverse mortgage.) The government is apparently not able to do this for women— that is to force all banks to treat women equally.
A separate bank for women would solve the problem only notionally. If the same logic is applied to other areas, we would soon need an exclusive bank for SC and ST, minorities and backward classes.
Another scheme is ‘Nirbhaya’ for empowerment of women. The contours of this scheme are yet to be defined. We had scores of programmes in the past for empowerment of women. Like many other government scheme, they did not achieve much. What ‘Nirbhaya’ would do is to be seen.
Following the Delhi incidents, we are in the era of positive discrimination. Women returning from abroad are allowed to bring gold worth Rs. 1 lakh while men can bring only half the quantity. (For women, financially capable of travelling abroad, this is a pittance.). Well, this proposal violates equality before law and hence would be ultra vires of the Constitution.