Seeking swift implementation of the Aajeevika mission across the nation, particularly in central and eastern parts, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Monday hailed the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) as the largest women empowerment programme globally that shall cover two-thirds of the country’s population in the next five years.

“… by adopting the Aajeevika Mission, many States have proved that through women Self Help Groups [SHGs], economical and social changes can be brought in rural areas. Seeing this success, it seems now the Aajeevika Mission will have to be implemented fast across the country, especially in central and eastern India,” Ms. Gandhi said.

Her call comes at a time when the Congress is gearing up for the Lok Sabha election next year and Assembly election in five States, including BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh this year.

Addressing the second anniversary of the NRLM here, she noted that the empowerment of weaker sections and women had been the main pillar of the UPA government. She announced a special package for north-eastern States and hilly States like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to boost such measures.

Ms. Gandhi said that in the next 10 years, 7-crore below poverty line (BPL) families had to be freed from poverty, which was not an easy job.

“Today, everybody has proved that this programme can free women from the curse of poverty. Such emancipation is based on stable and self-made employment and not on the mercy and kindness of anybody. Our purpose is clear. We have to strengthen the women SHGs and their instruments financially,” she said.

Aajeevika -NRLM, which was launched by Ms. Gandhi in June 2011, is a poverty reduction programme based on employment generation by adopting a multi-pronged strategy. It aims at creating efficient and effective institutional platforms for the rural poor, enabling them to increase household income through sustainable livelihood enhancements and improved access to financial services.

“Women are the worst victims of poverty and social exploitation, especially those belonging to the minorities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes … For the financial empowerment of women, we have still to do much more, have to increase their skills by getting more loans so that they can get new opportunities of livelihood ... The social revolution that we want to bring about is possible only through women,” added Ms. Gandhi.

The Congress president said the UPA government had initiated measures for social and financial empowerment of women in Jammu and Kashmir through SHGs.

“In the next five years, we hope to reach this programme to two-thirds of the families in the State. I have been told that its result is very positive and we will see its many successes soon,” she said.

The NRLM aims to cover 7 crore BPL households across 600 districts, 6,000 blocks, 2.5 lakh gram panchayats and 6 lakh villages through SHGs and support them for livelihood collectives over a period of 8-10 years.

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