Focus will be on empowerment of rural poor, women

The Union government will set up an independent financial institution to give funds for effective functioning of the self-help groups (SHGs) and better empowerment of the rural poor.

UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi announced this while launching the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), which will be funded through financial institutions. As of now, banks will be mobilised to extend loans to the tune of Rs. 6,800 crore this year at subsidised rates of interest, while the government's contribution will be Rs. 3,000 crore.

In view of reservations expressed by banks in financing such livelihood schemes, the government has decided to arrange for funds separately for the scheme.

Ms. Gandhi said the Finance Ministry had proposed a corpus of Rs. 500 crore before deciding on the modalities for setting up such an institution that would take care of the finance the SHGs would need to provide for training and acquire income-generating assets.

Targeting seven-crore BPL (below poverty line) households, financial support under the NRLM would be ensured until the family concerned came out of the poverty trap. The government sought to accomplish the mission over the next six to eight years. Empowerment of women was necessary for strengthening society and development of the country.

Housing scheme

Ms. Gandhi also launched a scheme of the Rajasthan government to construct 10 lakh houses for BPL families by securing a loan of Rs. 3400 crore from HUDCO. The first instalment of Rs. 1400 crore was released at the function.

Under the scheme, each house would be constructed at a cost of Rs. 50,000 over the next three years.

The function was attended by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Union Minister for Rural Development Vilasrao Deshmukh and Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways C.P. Joshi.

Earlier in the day, Ms. Gandhi laid the foundation stone for the 176-km Dungarpur-Banswara-Ratlam rail section, which would put Banswara on the rail map. The State government had provided Rs. 200 crore out of its 50 per cent share of Rs. 1,050 crore for the project, estimated to entail Rs. 2082.75 crore. The project would be completed in five years.

Calling for greater participation of women in social auditing of schemes to ensure government accountability, Ms. Gandhi said training would be imparted for the purpose. Launching schemes were easy, but the challenge was in its implementation and women had to shoulder greater responsibility, she said.

The Manmohan Singh-led government was on the verge of finalising the Food Security Bill. The Congress was always committed to the welfare of weaker sections and tribals. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi strove for the development of poor and sacrificed their lives for it, she said.

Success stories

More than at the public meeting, Ms. Gandhi spent time listening to the success stories of women from across the country, which was telecast for the audience. She felicitated five of them with a reward of Rs. 25,000 each.

Each narration was a victory story over the orthodox set-up and emergence of women from the shackles. Khajuri Devi from Tonk district of Rajasthan joined a SHG, gained training, and now trained about 3,000 women.

Tajunn Nissa from Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh broke free of “purda” and the snide of her neighbours, and her courage eventually changed the perception of the Muslim community.

Sarita Devi's effort helped secure food security for the people in her area in Khagaria district of Bihar. Unity within the community transformed the lives of the poor, who now not only grow their own seeds, but have also more than doubled the agricultural productivity.

Rajpatiji of Uttar Pradesh said that by organising women, she had forced the authorities to change the rules ensuring that their husbands could not sell any land without the consent of wives.

Geeta of Bhiwadi district of Rajasthan prevailed upon her family elders to allow her to join the training programme along with her husband. It had worked wonders, with the two of them earning about Rs. 14,000 a month.

Similar was the story of Ashwini Kumar of Jammu and Kashmir. Training got him a job in a multinational company.