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Collectives, credit, convergence: Roadmap to make 20 mn women 'lakhpatis'

A pathway to having an inclusive India is achievable, writes Amarjeet Sinha

Indian Women

n 2014-15, there were hardly 25 million women in DAYNRLM (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Amarjeet Sinha
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Independence Day speech this year expressed his resolve to make two crore women (20 million) lakhpatis, there has been some discussion in the media. The Reliance Foundation and Bill and Media Gates Foundation have announced a partnership towards this end. Sceptics have reacted to the announcement with disbelief. As someone associated with the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana National Rural Livelihood Mission (DAYNRLM) over the last nine years and looking at the social capital of 93 million women in self-help groups (SHG) of the mission, I can say with reasonable confidence that the aspiration is very much in the realm of the possible.

The first time I had seen collectives of lakhpati women was in 2015 in Madhya Pradesh, when Belwaljee of DAYNRLM took me to celebrations of women collectives in remote rural locations. Like the southern states that formed women self-help groups after laying the foundation for adolescent girls in higher education, decline in fertility, better primary healthcare services, vocational training and credit, the northern states – the poorer ones in particular – have taken women's collectives to scale. With Dr C Rangarajan approving collateral-free lending of up to Rupees 10 lakh to these collectives 30 years ago, the roadmap out of multi-dimensional poverty was paved. Kerala has 0.55 per cent and Tamil Nadu has 2.2 per cent persons in multi-dimensional poverty, according to Niti Aayog's latest assessment. The achievement is a tribute to the role of the factors mentioned above. In 2014-15, there were hardly 25 million women in DAYNRLM and that too primarily in the southern states. In 2013-14, as much as 85.6 per cent of all credit to SHGs was disbursed in the five southern states.

Since 2014-15, a concerted effort at replicating what had succeeded in the south has been tried on scale in all states of the country. Between 2010 and 2015, girls' participation in secondary education has also picked up considerably in all states, creating replacement-level fertility, and opportunities for diversified livelihoods through skills and credit. Jeevika in Bihar, Anandhara in West Bengal, Ajeevika in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Rajeevika in Rajasthan, Mission Shakti in Odisha, SRLMs in Assam, Jharkhand, Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh, and similar programmes in other states and union territories have brought 93 million women to the fold of DAYNRLM. Social capital has grown on an unprecedented scale and many such collectives work in partnership with gram panchayats. Credit disbursement in the hitherto low credit States has grown exponentially and the Non-Performing Assets have remained as low as 1.8 per cent. More than Rupees 6.5 trillion has been leveraged as bank loans by women's collectives for diversified livelihoods. Revolving funds, community investment funds and bank credit are making women-led economic activity and diversified livelihoods a reality across many regions of the country.

Evaluation studies by the Institute of Rural Development, Anand, and Dr Anjini Kochar's team in Stanford University clearly brought out the improvement in incomes on account of more resources and economic diversification in mission clusters. Studies also pointed out that it takes 6-8 years for new collectives to mature and expand their economic activity. Collateral-free lending has been increased to Rs 20 lakh per SHG over a hundred thousand banking correspondents from the SHG women (BC Sakhis) are reaching financial services to doorsteps in remote regions. Bank Sakhis, Krishi Sakhis, Pashu Sakhis, Community Mobilization Community Resource persons (CRPs), Enterprise CRPs, over 400,000 CRPs, are making a real difference to the lives and livelihoods of deprived women. Programmes like Rural Self Employment Training Institutes and Krishi Vigyan Kendras are making a difference to the lives of women. With 43 per cent of the 3.1 million elected panchayat representatives being women, convergence at the local level is possible on scale.

The women's collectives derive their social capital through an integration of mindsets that is free from party politics, through intensive capacity building and convergence. In many States, all free distribution of animal resources is only given to DAYNRLM women. MGNREGS resources have been used for rapid agricultural infrastructure and animal sheds, besides other durable assets for livelihood security. Many States have prioritized these collectives in access to skills courses.

To achieve the target of 20 million women as lakhpatis, it is important to resolve the constraints to credit and capacity building/skilling. While the BC Sakhis are facilitating a payments revolution, they are still many steps behind the ideal in access to working capital, and ease of credit access using the Digital Public Infrastructure. Challenges of dual authentication for SHG accounts have remained partially addressed in spite of the best efforts. I am currently involved in an initiative of the Reserve Bank Innovation Hub to resolve the challenges of the last mile in making digital access and dual authentication easier. Breakthroughs are imminent. In its absence, most transactions of SHGs happen in cash. This is not a healthy trend for a country with immense digital public infrastructure potential for credit.

In many states, collaboration with the One District One product Programmes or with efforts at promoting local handicrafts and food processing initiatives have also helped. More than 200 women's collectives have formed Farmers Producer Companies and are engaged in value chain development. A large number of women's collectives are supplied through the Government E Market (GeM) portal and other e- market options. A few all-women Producer Companies for dairy have come up successfully, demonstrating the immense opportunity for higher order diversified economic activities.  

Over 90 million women are nurtured by community organizations, panchayats and states upholding the federal principle. The Central government steps in with capacity-building support on scale and in pushing credit access through banks. Diversification of livelihoods has already been happening and it is time we resolved the constraints to scale and scope of women-led development. The finest story of national integration is the concerted effort of selected Community Resource Persons going to states and districts to form women's collectives in remote regions. The enthusiasm of women's collectives generates hope of a real social transformation. If quality of learning outcomes in schools and skills initiatives and timely and quality primary health care could reach every household, the women led development leaps will be manifold more.

For the civil society, it is an opportune moment to build on the social capital of women's collectives for diversifying lives and livelihoods. The Mission Antyodaya Gram Panchayat surveys provide an update on where a Panchayat is and what interventions will make it better. Similarly, data on deprived households from the Socio Economic Census 2011 can be easily updated to provide a live social registry of those who need the support of the State the most. Leaving no one behind is the avowed objective of government programmes and it is time, we attempted it through panchayats and women's collectives. Civil society, corporate social responsibility can all be harnessed to provide professionals in rural areas to work with women's collectives. This is the only pathway to an inclusive India. Collectives, capacity, credit and convergence is the road to a women-led development that creates wealth in the hands of the deprived. Having 20 million women lakhpatis in rural areas is very much in the realm of the possible if we do what is spelt out above.

Paradoxically, we are nowhere near this level of social capital and women's collectives in urban areas.
Amarjeet Sinha is a retired civil servant.

These are the personal opinions of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the views of www.business-standard.com or the Business Standard newspaper.
Disclaimer: These are personal views of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of www.business-standard.com or the Business Standard newspaper

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First Published: Aug 31 2023 | 1:03 PM IST

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