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Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said public sector banks were in better position now, as she urged all banks embrace digitisation to ensure government schemes reached the poor.

Speaking at the centenary celebrations of Tamilnad Mercantile Bank, Sitharaman said Rs 1,500 was given out in three installments to the needy directly in their bank accounts during the Covid-19 outbreak.

She pitched digitisation as a means to accelerate financial inclusion, adding that digitisation cannot be avoided and must be embraced.

“It is possible to be more efficient if you (banks) adopt complete technology related solutions,” Sitharaman said. “Technology related solutions take away a lot of other problems.” She said the Jan Dhan Yojana was financial inclusion done in its truest sense as the scheme managed to bring large proportions of the unbanked population into the formal banking fold.

“PM Modi when he brought the Jan Dhan yojana was clearly aware that many of these accounts may be zero balance accounts but he did not hesitate. He said I would want them to go to the bank and transact, taking financial inclusion to the poorest of the poor and building on it gradually with the Mudra loan and SVANidhi loan,” the FM said.

Sitharaman said because of the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework, banks, especially public-sector ones, were in better health, pointing out that prior to 2014 they were facing many problems.

Banks were laden with non-performing loans, which was a serious concerns for the future of banking sector itself. “Today, the sector is stable after continuous prompt steps that the government has taken. Many banks in the public sector have come back to normalcy now,” she said.

She said the Centre also introduced the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme during the pandemic to enable MSMEs to do business without giving any additional collateral.

Later in the day, speaking to the press, the minister clarified that no land parcels will be taken up under the National Monetisation Pipeline of the Centre worth Rs 6 lakh crore. “It is a scheme where we have come up with the central government’s own monetisation plan,” she explained. “I specifically mentioned in my press conference that there is no land involved in it. They are all brownfield assets and by doing the monetisation, we are trying to bring optimal value to it so that they can be better utilised.”

Asked about whether petrol and diesel would be brought under GST, Sitharaman said the amendment has been made and kept ready for a decision by the GST Council. “The GST Council has to make the decision to introduce petrol and diesel into the GST and also has to fix the rate at which these commodities should be taxed,” she said.

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