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RBI committee on digital payments makes a strong case for financial inclusion of disabled community

June 6, 2019

Over 70 million Indians have a disability, making a compelling case for financial inclusion to be built in, in every aspect of our lives. Compelling from the point of social justice as well as business sense. Yet, this doesn't get reflected. A huge gap that needs to be addressed, as a Reserve Bank of India's high-level committee emphasies.

Cast a look at most events and conferences on disability in India and all too often it's the aspects of education, employment, health and technologies that get talked about. Few talk about financial inclusion, which is an oversight given that at 70 million people, India's disabled community are a sizeable presence.

The oversight is not for the lack of a noise. Be it banking services or digital payments, the access hitches have been raised time and again by the community. Now, for the first time there's a reason to hope that something will be done about it.

A Reserve Bank of India appointed high-level committee on digital payments led by Nandan Nilekani has made a note of the various gaps and has come up with specific recommendations to address them in a permanent manner.

The report says there are "well established methods of building digital products, that would ensure that individuals, who otherwise have a disability, are able to lead an independent life, with dignity.

Furthermore, it sends a reminder that Section 40 of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016 mandates that public facilities and services be made accessible in line with the standards notified by the Central Government. "In accordance with the Rules, the obligation to ensure compliance with the standards notified under the Rules vests with the domain regulator i.e. RBI in this case. Accordingly, all system providers must ensure that the payment systems operated by them are complying with the accessibility standards notified by the RBI under the Rules.

The report also outlines specific recommendations to enable this, including,

  • All digital payment methods, like apps and websites, meet accessibility criteria.
  • Other services, such as Point of Sale (POS), ATMs, physical branches etc. must also be enabled for access.
  • That the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology (IDRBT) study the international standards and recommend their adoption in India.
  • Finally, that in addition to security certification, the release process for these products must include a test for accessibility. A compliance report should also be submitted.

A first

Mumbai-based lawyer financial lawyer Amar Jain, who is a vocal advocate for financial inclusion, says that this is the first report that addresses the needs of people with disabilities in such specific details. Jain, who is a visually impaired person, was among a group of people to meet with the committee to make a presentation outlining the needs of people with disabilities.

When the RBI talks of financial inclusion and you look at the reports of its various committees, people with disabilities are often left behind. None of the reports I have seen until now have talked about including us in any aspects. They talk of rurally disadvantaged people, or people from economically backward backgrounds. The fact they have given us importance and heard us out patiently is important. - Amar Jain, Financial lawyer

Jain is also happy with the focus put on giving a systematic solution to ways to ensure compliance. "This makes organisations automatically aware that this is something they need to work on and that's significant.

Such a high-level committee taking note of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities in accessing financial services is being regarded with hope. Chandana Chandrashekhar, a visually impaired person working with a top financial accounting firm in Bengaluru, hopes this will pave the way for financial independence for the community.

"Most visually impaired people use various technologies in their day to day life activities and considering financial Independence is important for any individual. Visually impaired people find it challenging to access certain websites due to Captcha and other technical issues so it would be helpful if guidelines are imposed to make these websites accessible and to ensure the safety of online transactions.

How this will be implemented on the ground is something Delhi-based banker Aparna Murthy is keen to know. "It is a welcome move but what is most important is the way it would be implemented on the ground level. What will also be crucial is sensitising the staff to the various challenges faced by people with disabilities".



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