Special Correspondent

  • It does not address issues concerning women's interests
  • `It also does not talk about removal of poverty'

    JAIPUR: Women groups and activist organisations here have demanded withdrawal of the Micro-Finance Development and Regulation Bill, 2007, introduced in Parliament in March and now pending with its Standing Committee. The groups have expressed serious misgivings over the Bill, which they say is against the very concept behind the self-help groups (SHGs) and women empowerment.

    The criticism of the Bill is, among other things, for its alleged lack of concern for women's interests, the positioning of NABARD as the regulatory body, for not talking about any cap on the interest rates and for exempting non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) and Section 25 companies from its purview. No consultations have been held with women SHGs or their representative federations to assess their needs and interest, it is pointed out.

    "The Bill does not talk about removal of poverty, the obligations of the State and the role of the Government. It only seeks to `provide promotion, development and orderly growth of the micro financial sector in rural and urban areas, to provide universal access to integrated financial services'," said the groups which include the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), PUCL, Rajasthan, Vividha and Academy for Socio-Legal Studies.

    Only talks of finance

    "The Bill has no participation of women who account for more than half of 26 lakh SHGs in the country. The Bill is not addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and women empowerment but talks only of finance," said Komal Srivastava of BGVS talking to journalists here. "The Bill is apparently for regulating micro-finance organisations which are already regulated under various laws. Curiously NABARD itself, which is to be the regulator with considerable arbitrary powers, is a major promoter of SHGs," Nisha Siddhu of NFIW pointed out.

    "We are concerned about the turn of developments. AIDWA itself is having many SHGs," Sumitra Chopra of AIDWA, Rajasthan, observed. "The Bill is talking about profit forgetting all about other major aspects behind the concept of SHGs such as freeing women from domestic violence, sexual exploitation, right to bear children and political participation," she said.

    The activists said Union Ministers Renuka Choudhary and Raghuvansh Prasad were also opposed to the Bill. Instead of NABARD, the Micro Finance Development Council, mentioned in the Bill, could be the regulatory body for the SHGs provided it had a minimum 50 per cent representation for women, they said. "Even the Rajasthan Government is planning to promote 2 lakh more NGOs. The State Government should spell out its stand on the Bill," said Kavita Srivastava of PUCL, pointing out that Rajasthan alone had over 2 lakh SHGs with women accounting for 1.25 lakh of them working in sectors such as women and child development, literacy, forest and environment, rural development and water conservation, among others. According to official records, over 1.16 lakh SHGs are linked to banks and have taken credit worth Rs.275 crore so far.

    It also has no participation of women