Women SHGs have emerged as a force within Odisha societies.(HT Photo)
Women SHGs have emerged as a force within Odisha societies.(HT Photo)

Separate depart for Odisha SHGs as their growth continues under Naveen Patnaik

  • Though the women SHGs existed in Odisha in 90s, they got a separate identity when Biju Janata Dal under Naveen Patnaik rode to power in 2000.
By Debabrata Mohanty | Edited by Abhinav Sahay
PUBLISHED ON MAR 02, 2021 10:36 AM IST

Odisha government is planning to make a separate department to administer the self help groups (SHGs) like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, two decades after their inception, by dividing the SHGs into cluster level, gram panchayat level, block level, district level and finally a state level federation, said officials.

"The unified structure would go a long way in strengthening the SHG initiatives and provide greater focus, synergy and help utilise the manpower and resources in a more organised manner," said a senior state government official. The department would be headed by a secretary and there could be a separate minister for it.

The plan to make a separate department for the SHGs came in the backdrop of a recent government decision asking them to collect property tax and holding taxes in state's urban local bodies, where there were less number of officials to collect the dues.

In Bhubaneswar municipal corporation, the largest urban local body in the state with a million plus population, there were at least 804 big defaulters of property and holding tax. Till January, BMC could only collect property/holding tax of 24 crore out of the 90 crore target for 2020-21. The state housing and urban development department now hopes to meet the target by handing over the job of collection of arrears and current tax dues to the SHGs.

"The main objective of the exercise was to achieve full and complete coverage of all assesses in respect of property Tax/holding Tax and other taxes by involving SHGs. We are engaging the SHGs in urban local bodies where each tax collector has to handle more than 1000 cases a year. The department would pay anything between 2 to 3% of the collection as commission to the SHGs," said a senior official of the housing and urban development department.

"The move to give more work to the SHGs would definitely add to their confidence and provide more money in their hands. It's a concrete step towards women empowerment and in line with chief minister Naveen Patnaik's faith in women of Odisha carving a separate niche in the society," said Pratap Deb, spokesman of Biju Janata Dal.

Though the women SHGs existed in Odisha in 90s, they got a separate identity when Biju Janata Dal under Naveen Patnaik rode to power in 2000. A year after becoming CM, Patnaik started Mission Shakti programme and began formation of these SHGs with the objective of organising women into groups for holistic empowerment and targeted livelihood activities. Today, there are a little over 6 lakh SHGs in Odisha under Mission Shakti with 70 lakh members. In April 2017, a separate directorate of Mission Shakti was created under the Women & Child Development Department.

These SHGs take loans from banks and provide small loans to members; make packaged ready-to-eat fortified power food for children in anganwadi centres and look after the mid-day meal schemes of state's schools. This financial year, at least 2 lakh SHGs were given credit linkages worth 3411 crore. For SHG groups that take loans up to 3 lakh from banks and repay it on time, the state government takes care of the interest payment.

Apart from providing small loans to the members, these SHGs are also engaged in a variety of works including collection of power tariff from consumers. A little more than a year ago, the government tied up with Amazon and Flipkart to help the SHG members gain access to a bigger market. An exclusive Mission Shakti e-commerce portal is also being developed in collaboration with the Tata Trusts to market women SHG products online. In May 2019, the Naveen Patnaik government approved provisioning of services and goods for different government departments through Mission Shakti, which would provide direct business worth 1000 crore to the SHGs every year.

Last year during Covid 19, SHG groups in urban areas were engaged as implementing partners under the Urban Wage Employment Initiative. The scheme, now renamed as Mukhyamantri Karma Tatpara Abhiyan, helped urban women in slums and poor households earn through desilting of drains, construction of rain water harvesting structures, plantations, recycling and reuse of waste, beautification of city through wall painting and murals. Around 7000 SHGs were engaged as implementing partners in execution of work with contract value/wage component amounting to 62.08 crore.

Apart from this, around 400 SHGs manufactured over 3.3 million masks for distribution among people last year. During the Covid-19 lockdown, when dry ration and vegetable shops were shut in rural Odisha, these groups distributed more than 9 million cooked meals through the free kitchen centres managed by them in Odisha's gram panchayats.

Political science professor of GM University, Sambalpur, Gyana Ranjan Swain said it is remarkable the way Naveen Patnaik has built a core constituency for his party through SHGs. "In any election, the electorate are vulnerable to money and muscle power. Yet in Odisha, these women have stood rock-solid behind BJD due to the SHG movement. It's a win-win strategy for both BJD and rural women as the SHG groups empower rural women and Naveen Patnaik is assured of a committed vote base. I don't think there are any other committed vote banks of any political party in India as SHG groups in Odisha," said Swain. To show his commitment towards the SHGs, Patnaik in 2019 nominated SHG leader Pramila Bisoyi to contest from Aska Lok Sabha constituency, which he first represented after joining politics in 1997.

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The growth of SHGs in Odisha over the last 20 years is also matched by the rising participation of women in elections. In 2000, when Naveen Patnaik was first elected as CM, only 55.6 % of the women electorate cast their votes as against 63.8% men voters. In 2019 polls, close to 75% of the women electorate cast their votes as against 71% men. "Though there is no empirical evidence to show how many of these women voted for the BJD, we can surmise that most of the women must have voted for BJD," said Panchanan Kanungo, former finance minister of Odisha.

Professor of sociology of Utkal University, Navaneeta Rath said one needs to study how the SHG movement has changed the entrepreneurship model in rural Odisha. "Traditionally women in Odisha are not considered to be worthwhile in households. But the SHG movement has altered the power balance in Odisha society. Now they are being taken seriously due to their financial muscle," said Rath.

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