I have always been inclined to contribute to the MoS Karad society

In an interaction with Urvi Shrivastav, Editorial Manager, BW BFSI, BW Businessworld; Dr. Bhagwat Karad, State Finance Minister, talks about government initiatives taken to promote financial inclusion, the profound impact they have had on citizens, while addressing some burning economic issues

You are a doctor by training, why did you decide to get into politics?

I come from a rural background, that too from a farming family. Therefore, I understand the difficulties of the company. I continued my medical studies in a medical college in Aurangabad. As a pediatric surgeon, I operated on small children. I was doing well for my family but I was still keen on contributing to society, so I finally decided to join the Lion’s club. This club organized different camps with Dr. Sharad Kumar Dixit, who was an American plastic surgeon. Due to my involvement in social causes, I was elected Corporal in 1995. After that I served as Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Aurangabad twice. Subsequently, I had the good fortune to work as an MP and, with the blessing of our honorable Prime Minister, I am now on his council.

Since your swearing in in 2021, what measures has the government taken for the well-being of society?

I vividly remember being sworn in on July 7, 2021. Our Prime Minister told me to work on financial inclusion, financial literacy and digital transactions. Over the past year, I’ve visited 14 different states across the country and worked extensively on social security and financial inclusion schemes. Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Beema Yojana (PMJJBY), Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Beema Yojana (PMSBY) and Atal Pension Yojana (APY) have been among the major social security schemes. For financial inclusion, MUDRA Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Swanidhi Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Employment Generation Program are some of the notable programs I have worked on to increase their coverage. The idea is to ensure maximum penetration of the programs and to ensure that the maximum number of people can benefit from them. I am happy to report that a lot of good work is being done with these programs in all states.

How does the common man benefit from these diets? Can you share some facts and figures?

Under PMJDY, an individual can open an account with a zero balance. Taking advantage of this fact, 45 crore, 95 lakh people opened an account under this scheme. Also, under PMSBY, which is a social security scheme, 29 crore is benefited. PMJJBY has witnessed the involvement of 13 million people so far.

New businessmen who do not have collateral can benefit from MUDRA yojana. If we look at the last two years of pandemic which saw the economy slow down, the Atmanirbhar package affected Rs 4.5 lakh crore which benefited many small and upcoming businesses.

What are the issues hindering the growth of the Indian financial sector?

A number of systemic issues were hampering the growth of India’s financial sector. A large number of people were not part of the formal banking sector and, in general, educated people had a superficial knowledge of the financial sector. Since 2014, under the aegis of the Prime Minister, the financial sector has undergone numerous reforms. Each reform undertaken has been accepted as a challenge by us. First, we raised awareness about unbanked people in society and started to bank them. Second, we had to tackle non-performing assets (NPAs) and the accounts around them. In 2018, the NPA count stood at 14.58%, which dropped significantly to 7.4%. Before 2014,

NPA accounts weren’t even recognized, and if they were, they were restructured. I would also like to point out that bank fraud cases have decreased significantly from 1.32% in 2013-2014 to 0.047% in 2021-22. Therefore, we can see a rapid decrease in challenges in the financial sector due to the reforms and measures taken by the government.

In addition to resolving the NPAs, what is the government doing to improve the economic situation?

We promote financial inclusion on a war footing. Whether rural or urban, we host camps around financial literacy and awareness. These camps are funded by organizations like NABARD, nationwide.

Emphasis is also placed on increasing the use of technology, for example, the use of UPI. Digital transactions have been strongly encouraged by this government. If we look at 2017-18, digital transactions of INR 2071 crore took place, which increased to 8,190 crore in 2021-22, an increase of 400%. I would also like to point out that the digital transaction is important because there is less corruption.

If we look at this year’s budget, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, 7.5 lakh crore has been allocated for capital expenditure. This creates valuable assets for the government. I would also like to highlight Prime Minister Gati Shakti Yojana, who needs massive inter-ministerial coordination to execute a project that will ensure that every project is completed and not abandoned halfway.

Speaking of some recent economic issues, the rupee has touched an exchange rate of 80 rupees per dollar exchange rate. What is the Indian government doing to address this issue?

We read daily that the rupee has been devalued. In this regard, I would like to say that the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States has raised the interest rate on the dollar. Although this has an impact on the exchange rate, I would like to point out that the rupee is performing better than before compared to other currencies such as the pound, euro or yen. However, the government is taking steps to address this issue. Foreign deposits and foreign capital inflows have been made more efficient. Along with this, the government also practices strict discipline in finance and does not exceed the estimates of the Union budget.

Recently announced GST rates have sparked public debate, what do you think of that?

The GST is very good for people. Before that there were 16-18 taxes, now there is only one. We have a GST council, which includes the finance minister of each state. Whenever a GST rate is implemented, it is with the consensus of the GST Board. Earlier products were taxed if sold under registered trademarks. This has led to many cases where reputable companies have evaded taxes. Thus, this amounts to a major swindle in government revenue. In order to avoid the same thing, and in the same spirit, the council decided to tax labeled and packaged products. This changed the list of products a little. And most importantly, it has no impact on products sold in bulk and their sellers.

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