How SHGs helped Naveen Patnaik consolidate women supporters base - Hindustan Times
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How SHGs helped Naveen Patnaik consolidate women supporters base

ByDebabrata Mohanty
Feb 26, 2024 09:56 AM IST

Ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders said the women’s support has prompted Patnaik to give a bigger share of tickets to them

Maa Samaleswari Producer Group, a self-help group (SHG) of 50 women in Suamal in Odisha’s Sundargarh district, has come a long way over the last five years. From living in poverty, its members now earn over 8000 monthly cultivating the bitter and ridge gourd on a 25-acre land. “I am now able to save more and can give a better life to my children,” said Minati Lakra, a member of the group.

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. (ANI)
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. (ANI)

The SHGs, launched in 2001 for the economic empowerment of women, have an annual budget of 2761 crore. They train women as well as provide them with livelihood by offering loans. The SHGs have also played a key role in chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s electoral success.

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Political analyst SP Dash said women have been the biggest supporters of Patnaik, who has been the chief minister for 24 years. “Over the last decade and a half, he has managed to create a vote bank... through women SHGs. These women have ensured that whichever elections Patnaik faces, he has a head start.”

In 2000, over 54% of the eligible women voters voted. The women’s voter turnout went up to 74% in 2019. The turnout of women voters has outnumbered that of men in Odisha since 2009.

Ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders said the women’s support has prompted Patnaik to give a bigger share of tickets to them. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, seven of the 21 Lok Sabha BJD candidates (33%) were women. Five of the seven women won. Thirteen of the 20 women fielded across 147 assembly constituencies also won that year. The BJD gave tickets to five women in the last seven assembly by-elections.

Sociologist Rita Ray said Patnaik was one of the few politicians in the country who probably understood the importance of women voters. “He has created a vote bank for BJD through women-centric programmes like SHGs.”

Patnaik chose Abanti Das, who led an SHG group in Bhadrak, as a candidate for the Dhamnagar assembly by-election in 2022. Pramilla Bisoi, an SHG group member from Ganjam, contested the Aska Lok Sabha seat in 2019.

Officials said credit disbursement among women SHGs has gone up five times in the last seven years—from 1,036 crore in 2016-17 to 5763 crore until September 2023. The disbursement reached 6,000 crore in the current fiscal.

The mission shakti department facilitates institutional finance to SHGs at 0% interest on loans up to 3 lakh, facilitating economic activities at the grassroots level. The government pays 200 crore for interest subvention.

As many as 21 government departments have outsourced their activities to women SHGs. SHGs have been working as banking correspondents in unbanked villages, helping people recognise early signs of cancer, handling sewage treatment plants, etc. The SHGs distributed food as well as stitched face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic,

In December 2021, Patnaik started Mission Shakti Bazaars for SHGs to sell their products. He announced 217 crore assistance for salaries and travel allowance of members of SHGs.

Under the Mission Shakti Scooter Yojana introduced in October last year, 200,000 women will get interest-free loans up to 1 lakh to buy scooters. The government has allocated 528 crore to bear the interest of scooter loans, etc.

This month, Patnaik announced financial aid of 1,000 each for uniforms and blazers of the seven million SHG members. The State Cabinet approved 2,000 each for 150,000 SHG members in leadership positions.

An Indian Institute of Public Administration survey found that SHGs have enabled women and rural households to invest in education, health, and hygiene. “The financial inclusion attained through Mission Shakti SHGs has reduced child and maternal mortality and enhanced the capability of the rural women to combat diseases through better nutrition, housing, and health.”

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader Prithwiraj Harichandan acknowledged SHGs have helped the BJD win elections. “...But despite that, we won the 2022 Dhamnagar assembly by poll. In this election, we would tell people how the Centre is giving money to the SHGs through the National Rural Livelihood Programme which the state government hides.”

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