‘Women self-help groups can be significant contributors to GDP’

While the Government has already prioritised the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), aimed at raising the annual income of each woman in self-help groups (SHGs) to Rs 1 lakh by 2024, it is aggressively promoting entrepreneurship and economies of scale among them. Not just that, instead of a grant-based economy, it wants to back up its hand-holding efforts by easing loans and enabling access to markets.

Addressing the third edition of the Indian Express Thinc session on Gender, titled “Women Collectives: Changemakers from the ground up,” Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Giriraj Singh, said, “My mission is to ensure that no rural woman, who wants to connect with NRLM, is left behind. I will also improve the turnover of 5.9 lakh crore women. If half of the country’s population improve their earnings, they will be significant contributors to the national GDP.”

Highlighting the strides made by NRLM, Mr Singh said till 2014, the scheme involved 2.35 lakh houses, had 80,000 crore bank linkages with non-performing assets (NPAs) at 9.58 per cent. “Today, 8.35 crore women are connected to NRLM and there are 5.9 lakh crore bank linkages, while the NPAs have reduced to 2.5 per cent. No other sector today has such low NPAs and I am going to decrease it further to less than 1 per cent,” said he.

Envisaging a multi-sector role for SHGs, the Minister said he wanted to ensure that each woman gets an annual income of Rs 1 lakh, which means, around Rs 8,000 to 10,000 per month. “They are working in multiple sectors as Business Correspondents (BC), Bank Sakhis, Kisan Sakhis and Pashu Sakhis. Around 60-70 per cent of the women working in agriculture and animal husbandry should be able to diversify themselves and move towards millet cultivation and horticulture. These avenues will provide new forward linkages,” he added.

As part of “Mission 1 lakh, 2024”, Singh highlighted how his Ministry was facilitating women farmer producer companies and clusters by connecting them with e-commerce platforms such as Flipkart and Amazon and linking state markets at the domestic level. Not only that, the Government would help them with upskilling, branding and packaging.

Elaborating on a multi-pronged approach, the Minister said how women SHGs in the villages could usher in a new green revolution by making organic fertilisers. “A woman from Bakhri village in my constituency Begursarai, Bihar, has a two-acre land and got a good yield as a result and could sell her produce at higher prices. We are giving lakhs of rupees in subsidies for chemical fertilisers. That burden can be reduced by getting women involved in organic manure production,” said Singh, adding, “There is a new-found enthusiasm among women at the grassroots to improve their collective lot.”

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