Friday, March 2, 2012

Banking Apartheid in India

Banks ‘lock out’ Muslim firms in Aligarh

Published: Friday, Mar 2, 2012, 9:30 IST
By Iftikhar Gilani | Place: Aligarh | Agency: DNA

In the dingy lanes of old Meerut city, Iqbal Ahmed was looking to set up an additional unit for his printing press. Despite National Minority Financial Development Corporation (NMFDC) approving his loan, bank managers at the local public sector banks refused to release the amount. It was only when the Jammu and Kashmir bank opened its unit in the city last year, he could get the loan to realise his dream.
The story is identical. Hundreds of miles away in Aligarh, popularly known as ‘tala nagri’, famous for its Rs400 crore lock industry, workers and owners of small units are facing an acute banking apartheid.

From Upper Court to Gonda road, an area of almost 5 sq kilometres, inhabited by lock makers mostly from Muslim community, the only face of the government is Kotwali police station. “No government office, either a bank or a government hospital exists in this part of Aligarh city,” says Zeeshan Ahmed, an Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) engineering alumni and an industrialist. A few years ago, even the Tehsil office was also shifted from this area.
Pointing out to nearby soiled Shah Jamal area inhabiting two lakh people, all of theminvolved in lock manufacturing, Zeeshan says, there is hardly a semblance of governance.
Dispelling any threat from China, he says the lock industry was actually facing challenges from acute electricity shortage and more so, availability of machinery, raw material and banking facilities.
The tax system, skewed licensing, bureaucratic hurdles and corruption has also hit small time manufacturers. They have now entered into an ingenious way of keeping themselves a float. “We limit ourselves to making locks for all the big branded companies.
They provide us raw material and pay for our work. We no longer are engaged in marketing of our products,” says Mohammad Zahid, while showing his lock manufacturing unit to DNA.
“Muslims are skilled artisans, but don’t understand the market set up. There are some 200 lock exporters in the city, but not even one-third are from Muslim community,” says Zeeshan.
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam, chairman of Delhi-based Institute of Objective Studies (IOS) believes that banking apartheid was not limited to Uttar Pradesh only. Despite prime minister Manmohan Singh pushing for his 15-point programme for the minority welfare, 90,000 such cases have come to light in Andhra Pradesh.
At least 40,000 such cases have been reported from Bihar as well.
“Large clusters of Muslim populations have been unofficially declared red zones by banks for loans vital to the economic development of Muslims. This has affected their prospects of expanding their industrial units or to even seek educational loans,” he says.
Demanding that this apartheid must stop, he asked the Reserve Bank of India and Union ministry of finance to take note and punish the guilty officials.

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