Sonia Gandhi wants scheme to aid women’s groups extended

Congress president Sonia Gandhi says the aim of the government is to financially strengthen women’s SHGs
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First Published: Mon, Jun 03 2013. 11 48 PM IST
Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
New Delhi: Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday called for the extension of a key anti-poor programme that aims to reduce poverty by providing rural households opportunity for self-employment or access to skilled jobs through institutions such as self-help groups or cooperatives.
Speaking to a group of women from across the country on the second anniversary of the launch of Aajeevika, or the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), Gandhi said the government was in the process of “creating a special package for hilly states like those in the northeast, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand”.
Gandhi, chairperson of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), said the aim of the government was to financially strengthen women’s SHGs, adding that “the success (of SHGs) makes you feel that the Aajeevika mission needs to be implemented across the entire country”.
The government has striven to empower women and the weaker sections, she said. “Women, especially those from scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minority communities, are the most affected by poverty and social exploitation. I am of the belief that women are the most capable of bringing about a change in the society,” Gandhi said.
The Congress-led UPA won the national election in 2004 on a pro-poor ticket and was re-elected to office in 2009 thanks to programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that guarantees 100 days of work to unskilled workers in villages who seek jobs.
Recent initiatives announced by the government for women include a women’s bank with a corpus of Rs.1,000 crore. The proposed bank is to be administered by women and provide services to women and women’s self-help groups. NRLM has an allocation of Rs.4,000 crore in this year’s budget.
In her speech, Gandhi recalled that the cabinet had last month cleared a proposal to give loans to women’s SHGs at 7% interest, cheaper than the existing 11.5-14%, bringing the cost of loans on par with those given to farmers. According to the proposal, SHGs that repay loans on time will be eligible for loans at an even cheaper 4% rate. Gandhi hoped the move would encourage women to become independent.
Launched as the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana in 1999 by the then National Democratic Alliance government, the programme was restructured as the NRLM in 2011 by the UPA administration, after resolving weaknesses such as regional variations in the mobilization of the rural poor, insufficient capacity building, and weak linkages with banks resulting in low credit mobilization.
According to the ministry of rural development, NRLM has aims to cover 70 million below-poverty-line households in 600 districts and 600,000 villages in the country through SHGs and federated institutions. Of these, 45 million households still need to be organized into SHGs. NRLM aims to ensure that at least one member of every poor household in rural areas, preferably a woman, is brought into an SHG network. The programme aims to provide skills and training besides access to finance through SHGs.
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First Published: Mon, Jun 03 2013. 11 48 PM IST
More Topics: Sonia Gandhi | SHGs | Aajeevika | women groups |