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    'Inclusive growth biggest challenge for India'

    New Delhi: The biggest challenge for India today is to ensure inclusive growth, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Saturday.

    Financial inclusion is an important priority of the government as only 38 per cent of the 87,051 bank branches of commercial banks are in rural areas and only 40 per cent of the country's population has bank accounts, he said.

    In order to address the need of banks in rural areas, Mukherjee said he had in 2010-11 directed all banks to provide appropriate banking facilities to places having population over 2,000 by March 2012 using branchless banking through business correspondents.

    Accordingly, the banks have formulated their road maps through the forum of state level banker committees for financial inclusion and have identified over 73,000 habitants having a population of over 2,000 for providing banking facilities.

    "These habitations have been allocated to commercial banks, regional rural banks and cooperative banks for providing banking facilities in a time-bound manner. This is estimated to provide new bank accounts to around 5 crore rural households," Mukherjee said in New Delhi.

    As per the 2001 census, there are about 600,000 villages in India but only 32,919 rural bank branches in the country.