The Centre has plans to invite private sector contributions for the Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation (BRLF) for India's Adivasi-dominated districts, including the “Naxal-affected” ones. Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh has called upon top companies to support the initiative.
“I have written to the Tatas, Reliance, Infosys, Wipro. It will be a public-private-partnership model. The Foundation will be an independent body with a full-time professional CEO. On [April] 27 we have called a meeting of non-government organisations, donors and State governments. We are hoping to get a good response from the private sector,” Mr. Ramesh told reporters on Saturday, on the sidelines of a review meeting with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development.
Mr. Ramesh said the Foundation “will work with civil society organisations” directly in 170 Adivasi districts. “Its function will be to build institutions and capacity of NGOs working in livelihood areas, such as dairy, watershed management, women's empowerment, in these difficult districts.”
The Foundation will raise an initial corpus of Rs. 1,000 crore, of which Rs. 500 crore will come from the Centre and the remaining from the private sector.
Voicing strong opposition to the draft microfinance bill, Mr. Ramesh said the bill could not promote microfinance institutions (MFIs) at the cost of self-help groups.
“The microfinance bill as currently drafted will have adverse impact on the SHG movement in India. It should not kill the SHG movement in the desire to promote MFIs. I have given my comment to [Union Finance Minister] Pranab Mukherjee.”
Mr. Ramesh said his ministry was keen on expanding women's SHGs in the country. “Seventy per cent of the 45 lakh women's SHGs are concentrated in south India — in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They account for 80 per cent of the credit.”
The focus would be on expanding SHGs in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Gujarat. He said the total bank lending to SHGs was Rs. 14,500 crore in 2010, but the volume of bank finance to SHGs had not increased. The government is mulling over having an explicit target for lending to SHGs under the priority sector lending of banks. Making bank lending flexible to the needs of the women's groups was also a crucial step.
The Ministry also aimed at increasing the number of SHGs from 45 lakh to 90 lakh and members from five crore to 10 crore in the next five years, Mr. Ramesh has said.
Mr. Ramesh saw a crucial role for the SHGs in the “sanitation revolution” in India. “If the 2.65 lakh gram panchayats have to be open defecation-free, you have to involve the SHGs,” he said.
Asked about the Land Acquisition Bill, Mr. Ramesh said the Standing Committee was likely to submit its report in the next two weeks.
He remained sceptical about the food-for-work programme, seeing it as a “recipe for widespread corruption.”