SURAT: Surekhaben Bhadigar and Jayshree Prajapati have seemingly small jobs: while Bhadigar rolls incense sticks for a living, Prajapati makes clay idols of gods. The two women, however, are quietly scripting their own success stories in Gujarat’s Bharuch district. A part of Bharuch’s 509 self-help groups (SHGs), which are trying to mitigate the financial woes of the district’s women, both Bhadigar and Prajapati are successful entrepreneurs in their own right today.
This push towards helping women become financially independent is the brainchild of District Development Officer (DDO) Yogesh Choudhary, a 2016-batch IAS officer who was posted here last June. “Through such programmes, each self-help group gets a revolving fund of Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per month, for around three months from the group formation, for activities like making of pickles, papads, wafers, spices, kulfi, incense sticks, homemade decorative products from clay etc,” explains Choudhary, who was earlier managing director with power discom Dakshin Gujarat Vij Company Limited in Surat. The officer says the revolving fund is intended to strengthen institutional and financial management capacity and build a good credit history within the group.
This May, the Bharuch district administration organised a district-level bank credit camp and facilitated loans for 343 of the 509 registered self-help groups in the district. Loans worth Rs 3.72 crore were disbursed for the first quarter of the 2022 financial year.
Among the beneficiaries have been women like Prajapati. This resident of Parvat village in Hansot taluka of Bharuch district now makes clay decorative products and idols after getting skill training under this scheme from the Gujarat Hastakala Board. After starting her business with a Rs 1 lakh cash credit loan, she has now ensured a steady income for herself.
Bhadigar’s story is no different. A member of the Surekha Swasahay Juth in Dehali village of Valiya taluka, she too got trained as part of the scheme. She started her incense business with a Rs 10,000 revolving fund and later took a cash credit loan from the bank to expand her business. Now, her husband Rajendrasinh is also chipping in to help grow their business.
The Gujarat government formed the Gujarat Livelihood Promotion Company (GLPC), the executive arm of Mission Mangalam under the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), to improve the livelihood of the poor and focus on the promotion of self-employment and organisation of the rural poor. The District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) implements such programmes and schemes to mobilise poor households and form small, informal self-help groups of up to 20 members.
After taking charge of the district, Choudhary found that many women in the district were poor and often faced financial distress because they had been widowed at a very young age. This is where the idea of setting up self-help groups to enable women to learn different skills and earn a livelihood came up. Choudhary explains that once a village has five or six groups, they can join hands to form a village organisation or VO. Each SHG in a VO can get up to Rs 1.80 lakh as a community investment fund. “As per the scheme, women also get skill training for self-employment through an institution under the lead bank in the district where more than 60 skill trades are taught free of cost, sponsored by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD),” the officer adds.
The programme is already making an impact on the ground. Nine out of 10 members in Ritaben Boradara’s Jay Kuber Swa Sahay Jooth in the nearby Chamaraiya village used to work as domestic help or farm labourers. Now, thanks to the pickles and papads made by the group, these women earn up to Rs 5,000 each month, almost double their earlier income.
“We started the group with 10 women, mostly tribals, around two years ago. I got trained in preparing pickles, wafers, and papads from neighbouring taluka and started at a small scale with a revolving fund of Rs 10,000,” says Boradara, adding that they also took a bank loan as the business grew and repaid it before time. “Our business is growing as we sell to shopkeepers and wholesalers in Bharuch and Ankleshwar. Now, our business is running into lakhs of rupees and we all are happy.”
Naynaben Vasava, 32, says with her job as a domestic help and her husband Jignesh working as a painter, they could not make ends meet. “Working under Ritaben I earned Rs 5,000, which was helpful for us. My children are going to primary school in the same village,” she elaborates. Vasava has now started making pickles and papads on her own during her free time with her husband selling them at the shops in the nearby village. “We both are working hard and our lifestyle has changed…Now, we are happy.”