Mumbai, Jun 7 : Every bank branch should hand-hold a Dalit enterprise, as such a step can have a ripple effect not only on the economy but also on the society in general, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said thursday .
Launching the first-ever Dalit industries-focused social impact fund, -DICCI SME Fund- here, the minister rued that even after 66 years of Independence, the country still reeks of casteism and social segregation.
The government is committed to improve the lot of the MSME sector in general and those promoted by the Dalit community in particular, he said, adding the MSMEs contribute to 8 per cent of the GDP, 45 per cent of manufacturing, and 36 per cent of exports of the country.
"If all the bank branches, running into a little over one lakh, and each one of them support a Dalit enterprise, it can have large impact on the economy and the society in general.
"And I want each bank branch to handhold a Dalit entrepreneur each, and then we will have 1 lakh flowers blooming in the country," Chidambaram told the meeting.
Calling for more affirmative action to rid the society of the caste evil, he said socially and financially affirmative and inclusive actions like reservations for the under-privileged are the way forward.
The venture capital fund, initiated by the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI), aims to raise Rs 500 crore which would be deployed over the next 10 years to finance Dalit entrepreneurs.
The fund, approved by Sebi, was launched with an initial contribution of Rs 10 crore by the Small Industries Development Bank of India.
"It is a modest beginning, all path-breaking projects begin on a modest scale, I am sure, one day this will grow into a massive tree," said Chidambaram, highlighting that the first Dalit fund will go a long way in creating social equity.
"The fact that the first Dalit fund is being launched at the iconic ball room of the historic Taj Mahal hotel in the nation's financial capital is very significant," he said, and regretted that the country has for centuries masked the fact that discrimination took place.
The Constitution provides for equality as also affirmative action, he said, adding "Reservation may be a blunt instrument, but it is an useful instrument in the absence of a better alternative."
Complimenting the Dicci for its path-breaking initiative, the Minister said the Dalit chamber has shown that acquiring economic power is a better instrument. "There is no better way to seek livelihood with dignity than being an entrepreneur standing on his own legs,", he said.
Underlining his government's commitment to promote inclusive growth, Chidambaram said MSME route is the right path for empowerment of SC/ST entrepreneurs.
He said the newly-announced public procurement policy mandates 20 perc ent of all government and public sector procurement to be made from the MSME sector.
It further stipulates that 4 per cent of all purchases should be made from firms run by the SC/ST entrepreneurs, which in itself is a Rs 46,000 crore market.
Chidambaram also said he would ask the public sector financial institutions, banks and LIC to invest in the Dicci SME fund to meet its corpus requirement.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Sidbi Chairman and Managing Director Sushil Muhnot handed over a commitment letter to Dicci chairman Milind Kamble contributing Rs 10 crore to the Dicci SME Fund that would raise Rs 100-crore in the first phase.
The fund will be largely sector-agnostic and invest in high growth small and micro companies promoted by Dalit entrepreneurs.