Self-help groups script a turnaround in Punjab villages

Sarabjit Pandher

54 such groups have triggered a dynamic economic activity at the grassroots; freed people from the clutches of moneylenders

Gramin Bank brought about a change by leading people from ‘thumb impressions to proper banking’

A big relief to villagers from the heavy compound interest charged by moneylenders per month

MOHALI: Without any government or NGO assistance, a cluster of about a dozen villages in Mohali district have scripted something that has not been attempted elsewhere in Punjab. Women from socially marginalised sections of society don’t go for menial labour any longer, the trend of dropouts from schools stands reversed and the role of moneylenders has been drastically curtailed. Creation of 54 self-help groups has triggered a dynamic economic activity at the grassroots in these villages.

Salma, a villager, along with Kamaljit Kaur motivated people to organise SHGs. Apart from helping her husband set up a fruits and vegetables shop, Salma’s achievements include a direct confrontation with a moneylender whose entry into the village was subsequently banned by the local elders.

She was instrumental in initiating the process which led to repayment of debts to the moneylenders. Salma was elected to the village Panchayat and is a member on the citizens’ committee for the village senior secondary school.

Similarly Avtar Singh, who organised another SHG, was elected a member of the Panchayat in neighbouring Ghataur village, while Malkiat Singh, who organised a similar group, heads the committee to manage the Gurdwara in Allapur village. Salma’s daughter-in-law Mumtaz is the secretary of another SHG.

No child labour

Salma claims that all those who joined these SHGs run their own enterprise. She also emphasises that child labour has been eradicated, there are no dropouts from school, and village streets are much cleaner since these SHGs started functioning.

Zero basis

Resham Singh, manager of the local Gramin Bank who has been instrumental in this turnaround, says each SHG starts with “zero cash, zero energy, zero time and zero management”. Using his previous experience as a recovery officer and analysing various models of poverty eradication programmes, he sought to bring about a change by leading people from “thumb impressions to proper banking”.

Overdraft allowed

Members of each SHG pool their savings and deposit these in the Gramin Bank. Most of them start with monthly savings of Rs.100. After six to nine months’ collections, the Bank allows them overdraft limits, which may be up to four times the saved amount.

No defaulter

While the bank charges around 11.25 per cent simple interest on the credit advanced to the group, it extends the same to its members with an additional one per cent levy calculated annually. This is a big relief compared to the strangulating three to five per cent compound interest charged by the money lenders on a monthly basis.

Mr. Resham Singh says while his bank has forwarded Rs.21 lakh so far, no SHG has defaulted or delayed repayments. Each group organises regular meetings and maintains proper records. The bank, the village panchayat and youth clubs organise training camps and workshops to help people upgrade their skills and help them start their own enterprises.

A placard on a wall of Mr. Singh’s office reads, ‘I have a dream that one day the poor people will rise up and live a life of dignity and honour’; this, he says, sums up his motivation and mission in life. His website >www.shgwealth.org sheds more light on his mission.

Promoting secularism

Interestingly, SHGs have peculiar ways of promoting secularism. While Salma’s organisation is called Mata Raj Kaur SHG, the one organised by Mumtaz is named after the ninth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur. Similarly, Manjit Kaur and Bhupinder Kaur, from Sikh families, lead Durga Mata and Shivji Maharaj SHGs, respectively, named after Hindu deities.

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