West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday announced a raise in the government subsidy to self-help groups in the State as an “anniversary gift”.

Launching a programme called ‘Anandadhara' under the aegis of the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), she said: “Something is due to you [self-help groups] on the occasion of the first anniversary” [of the Trinamool government]… we will increase the subsidy from 20 per cent to 30 per cent… I have already discussed this with Finance Minister Amit Mitra.”

The NRLM is the redesigned format of the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana (SGSY). Administered by the Union Rural Development Ministry, it calls upon the State to be a partner in the initiative whose main aim is poverty alleviation. The idea is to connect at least one woman from every poor family in the country with an SHG to create economic activity.

Ms. Banerjee emphasised the need for creating marketing outlets for the produce of the SHGs, saying that while one has been created in the city, many more need to be set up at the district and block levels.

“We need to develop rural economy at a faster pace through strong grassroots institutions like self-help groups,” Ms. Banerjee said.

In order to expedite the project, Ms. Banerjee announced the setting up of a “task force” under the chairmanship of State Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Subrata Mukherjee.

The task force would comprise Ministers of the various other departments involved in the project, she said.

Ms. Banerjee said her government would write to the Centre on relaxing some of the norms under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme so that the women in the State got some relief.

“It is not possible for a woman of this State to match the stamina and the vigour of those in the western parts of the country, say for instance, Rajasthan or Punjab. Our Panchayat and Rural Development Minister will write to the Centre so that women are allowed some respite in arduous jobs like digging a certain quantum of earth to qualify as a day's labour under the MGNREGS, she said.”

In order to achieve the twin objectives of putting a roof above every head in the State and creating livelihood opportunities, Ms. Banerjee said the government would buy around 2,100 square feet for every household that lacked shelter, to build one house and a shop so that some economic activity could be pursued by the household.