Foraying into rural India through micro-finance
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India, March, 03 2007 - Even as rural India tries to grasp the chimerical implications that the 2007-08 budget has for it, banking giant State Bank of India (SBI) has already set out to include the teeming millions in the country's hinterland hitherto left out of the credit loop.
Reaching out to more than 10,000 new families in three tiny blocks of Wardha district, SBI aims to replicate the pilot project first in three adjacent blocks of the district near Nagpur and then all over the country.
With over 20,000 households already covered under its priority sector in the Deoli, Samudrapur and Arvi blocks of the western Vidarbha district, SBI has promoted and credit-linked 25,000 all-women self help groups (SHGs) there in just three years.
The 25,000 SHGs, accounting for 97 percent of SHGs promoted and credit-linked by all commercial banks in the three blocks, are among 55,000 such groups financed by the bank in Maharashtra and Goa, touching more than a million lives in the two states, bank public relations manager Moin Qazi told IANS.
The feat has won the 9,500-branch strong SBI the NABARD best linkage award for three consecutive years, chief general manager Narayan Raja said, adding that the self-confidence and enthusiasm that the micro finance scheme has generated was more inspiring than the award.
SBI's micro-credit programme that has facilitated involvement of thousands of women in gainful activities and triggered a new wave of prosperity is a commercial opportunity for the bank though it is running it as a part of its social commitment, Raja said.
The CGM, accompanied by the bank's general manager Sharad Sharma and other officers, attended a huge get-together of SHGs here to listen to success stories of the village women engaged in a range of activities -- from pickle making to embroidery.
Standing out among the SHGs at the Deoli congregation was the honey exporting Anshara Mahila Bachat Gat (women's savings group) set up by Muslim women. The women, who hardly ever ventured out of home till a year ago, now run four stalls in as many weekly markets in the block selling a range of food items, detergents and clayware, Namrata Kolhatkar, who controls 900 groups in the block, told IANS.
'Each of the 15 members in our group earns at least Rs.2,000 a month and saves a part of it,' said Anshara Begum, the group leader. Four other women of the group, freely interacting with visitors at their stall, smiled out of their upturned burqas even as Anshara was talking about their collective venture.
While the men folk of the Anshara group families go to the forest to cull honey, women back home do the processing from filtration to bottling before it is exported to Singapore, China and some European countries, Kolhatkar said, adding this was just a small beginning of the export activity.
Nitin Narlawar of Kelapur tehsil in the suicide-prone Yavatmal district of debt-trapped farmers controls 700 SHGs in 125 villages in his block involving 10,000 tribal women. Attending the Deoli gathering as a special invitee, Nitin said that the farmers in the Kelapur block were not troubled by moneylenders, thanks to the SHGs being run with the help of SBI micro-finance.
Qazi claimed that the SHG micro-finance activity in the three blocks of Wardha district too has liberated villagers from the trap of moneylenders. SBI accounts for 85 percent of all SHGs credit linked by commercial banks in Maharashtra. This is against the bank's share of 47 percent at the national level.
The bank, which had helped set up a village resource centre (VRC) at Waifad in the same block last year, went a step ahead with the establishment of a village knowledge centre (VKC) in village Sonegaon. A venture of Jamshedji Tata National Virtual Academy for Rural Prosperity (NVA), the VKC is equipped with Internet facility.
'It has become an instant hit with villagers including young boys and girls who have started coming to get useful information from 50 information packages on a range of subjects related to agriculture, agro-processing and marketing as well as environment and other sciences,' project coordinator Vishwanath Palled said.
VRC also brings out a journal 'Aamchi Gram Varta' (Our Village News) packed with information about 50 villages in the block, he said.
Running the VRC and the village knowledge centre are the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation with the support of SBI. A VKC is functioning at Anandvan, Warora (the leprosy asylum set up by Baba Amte) in Chandrapur district of eastern Vidarbha.