A model for equitable development | Opinion
The Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAY-NRLM) is a programme for social and economic empowerment of women through community institutions of the poor. It touches the lives of over 6.47 crore women who have, to date, formed 59 lakh Self Help Groups (SHGs). In the last five years, over three crore of these women have been sanctioned Rs 2.12 lakh crore from banks. The banks approved credit based on a household-level micro-credit plan, which was prepared after ascertaining the asset base and resources through a participatory process. It is no longer just the five southern states, whose SHGs accounted for over 84% of the total lending till 2013-14. The increase in lending to SHGs is happening across the country, indicating the growing confidence of banks in lending to community institutions of the poor. The non-performing assets in these loans are barely over 2%.
In the last five years, there have been many learnings from this transformation of lives and livelihoods under the programme.
First, thanks to the intensive processes of developing social capital under the DAY-NRLM, women’s SHGs and their federations have emerged as vibrant community institutions of the poor. They have expanded their mandate from following only the Panchasutra of good savings and borrowing to Dasasutra that encompasses access to public services, education, health and well-being of poor households.
Second, the community resource persons (CRPs) are the biggest strength of this movement. Over 2.5 lakh women CRPs, who have come out of poverty, have been setting up women’s collectives across the country, and enabling the last-mile delivery of livelihoods extension and financial services to rural poor households.
Third, women SHGs and panchayat leaders are trying to find more meaningful solutions to the challenges of development. The women SHGs are involved in gram sabha meetings and in developing gram panchayat development plans. Over one lakh SHG women have been trained to conduct social audit of programmes to improve accountability to the community.
Fourth, financial resources from all ongoing programmes in rural areas are now focused on villages with social capital of the DAY-NRLM women SHGs on a priority basis.
Fifth, opportunities for skilling and diversification of livelihoods are being provided through the skills programmes of the ministry of rural development and community-training institutions.
Sixth, credit linkage for these women SHGs are a priority, and a series of confidence-building measures have been undertaken to give banks the comfort that these women will not only borrow, but also return on time. The setting up of the community-based recovery mechanism (CBRM), positioning community resource persons (bank sakhis) to act as a bridge between community and the bank as well as positioning of more than 4,000 bank sakhis as Business Correspondent Agents (BCAs) has generated confidence for the DAY-NRLM system. The training of bank managers and efforts at financial literacy and skills also helped.
Seventh, pro-poor public welfare programmes have improved the asset base of many women SHGs. The DAY-NRLM women played a very important role in building a movement for better public services at the local level. This was seen most during the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan in 65,000 villages to guarantee seven very basic services for the deprived and in the POSHAN Abhiyan.
Eighth, the efforts at promoting innovative interventions in farm and non-farm livelihoods broke new grounds in leveraging social capital of the SHGs for sustained economic activity. The setting up of 11,426 custom hiring centres and 760 rural transport centres, managed by the SHGs, is an indication of the diversity of livelihood development and opportunities. Many groups make money through organic manure, managing restaurants and better market for products through Saras Melas and e-marketing opportunities. Combining credit supply with livelihoods promotion has helped channelise credit from consumption to building livelihoods assets, leading to an increase in income. 60 lakh women from SHGs are practising sustainable agriculture, using natural means of crop protection and soil nutrition management.
The poor women have come out of chronic poverty, and are now poised for higher order credit support. Now, nano enterprises of SHG women have to be formalised to develop them into micro and small enterprises with a proper value chain, and link them to markets. A holistic credit guarantee system for even higher levels of credit where social capital exists is required to translate the potential of social capital into sustained rates of higher economic activity. It holds the key to a more shared and inclusive growth with less inequality. The DAY-NRLM programme and its women now have the social capital and the ability to make transformational changes in lives and livelihoods. Social capital is not only good social justice, it is also the best foundation for a shared sustained economic progress
Amarjeet Sinha is a civil servant
The views expressed are personal