Maharashtra government to give preference to tribal and rural women's groups

In a boost to women's empowerment, the Maharashtra government will now give preference to tribal and rural women's self help groups (SHGs) in handing over forest conservation projects. They will also be given preference in opening micro and small industries based on local forest produce.

According to a Special Action Programme formed for the coming five years (2010-11 to 2014-15), the government will build the capacity of 25,000 SHGs in 12,500 villages. The purpose is to increase the SHGs' participation substantially in expanding the State's forest reserves at a faster rate.

However, there is no special fund allocation for the programme — expenses will be met from the total budgetary provisions made for the department.

At present, there are 15,500 village settlements near the forest areas of Maharashtra. According to the Integrated Forest Management Programme, 12,600 villages have formed Integrated Forest Management Committees. Of the 26 lakh members/beneficiaries of the programme, 6.5 lakh are women.

The State Revenue and Forest department now wants to rope in more women because it feels that their active participation will lead to better conservation of the forest areas. The SHGs will be given preference for projects such as afforestation, water and soil conservation, nursery distribution, prohibition of forest fires, and protection of nurseries.

The SHGs will have to first register themselves with the Integrated Forest Management Committee of that village. They can also sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the committee for undertaking parts of a project that they are competent in handling. The groups will be given priority based on their capacity and prior experience.

Payment will be credited to the SHG's bank account in three equal instalments — the first will be given after the committee gives the Work Order to the SHG; the second after satisfactory completion of 50 per cent work; and full and satisfactory completion of work will make the SHG eligible to receive the third instalment. There is also a provision for allocating proportionate overhead costs.