A key objective in development economics is to work out ways to lift people out of poverty. Access to finance has been seen as a critical factor in enabling people to transform their production and employment activities and to exit poverty. Countries with better developed financial systems, it is argued, should be better able to exploit growth opportunities (Schumpeter, 1934; Gerschenkron 1962; Greenwood and Jovanovic, 1990; Bencivenga and Smith, 1991). Financial development may also enhance financial stability with positive implications for economic performance.
It is well known that the burden of indebtedness in rural India is very great, and that despite major structural changes in credit institutions and forms of rural credit in the post-Independence period, the exploitation of the rural masses in the credit market is one of the most pervasive and persistent features of rural life in India. Rural households need credit for a variety of reasons. They need credit to meet short-term requirements of working capital and for long-term investment in agriculture and other income-bearing activities. Agricultural and non-agricultural activities in rural areas typically are seasonal, and households need credit to smoothen out seasonal fluctuations in earnings and expenditure. Rural households, particularly those vulnerable to what appear to others to be minor shocks with respect to income and expenditure, need credit as an insurance against risk.
Rural households need credit for different types of consumption. These include expenditure on food, housing, health and education. In the Indian context, another important purpose of borrowing is to meet expenses on a variety of social obligations and rituals.
If these credit needs of the poor are to be met, rural households need access to credit institutions that provide them a range of financial services, provide credit at reasonable rates of interest and provide loans that are unencumbered by extra-economic provisions and obligations.
In the past, the banking scene in the rural India was dominated by regional rural banks (RRBs). The institution of Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) was created to meet the excess demand for institutional credit in the rural areas, particularly among the economically and socially marginalised sections. Although the cooperative banks and the commercial banks had reasonable records in terms of geographical coverage and disbursement of credit, in terms of population groups the cooperative banks were dominated by the rural rich, while the commercial banks had a clear urban bias. In order to provide access to low-cost banking facilities to the poor, the Narasimham Working Group (1975) proposed the establishment of a new set of banks, as institutions which "combine the local feel and the familiarity with rural problems which the cooperatives possess and the degree of business organization, ability to mobilize deposits, access to central money markets and modernized outlook which the commercial banks have". The RRBs Act, 1976 succinctly sums up this overall vision to sub-serve both the developmental and the redistributive objectives: The RRBs were established "with a view to developing the rural economy by providing, for the purpose of development of agriculture, trade, commerce, industry and other productive activities in the rural areas, credit and other facilities, particularly to small and marginal farmers, agricultural labourers, artisans and small entrepreneurs, and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto."