How NRLM is changing women’s lives

In Bastar, women self-help groups are starting several enterprises, from making incense sticks to ready-to-eat powder and soaps, besides expanding farming activities with the help of loan under the National Rural Livelihood Mission. 

Mangala Muchaki’s life changed after she expanded her farming activities to include maize and vegetables grown in her backyard. A resident of Matnar village in Bastar district, Muchaki traditionally used to grow only paddy, a favourite with many small-scale farmers like her. But thanks to the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), a poverty alleviation programme of the central government launched in 2011, this Gond tribal woman diversified her agricultural practices to earn a decent livelihood.

Remarking on the transformation, NRLM area coordinator Tiuma Maheshwari said the change occurred after Muchaki’s self-help group (SHG) received revolving fund worth Rs 15,000 from the government. “Earlier, she didn’t have enough capital to go in for expansion and also lacked adequate knowledge about vegetable farming. Now, she gets seeds from the district horticulture department and loves to try out new things.”

Across Bastar, many rural women who are members of SHGs are accessing loans to start their own enterprises in agriculture or the making of incense sticks, soaps and candles. As an area coordinator, Maheshwari is in charge of a cluster under which there are 10-12 panchayats. “My job is to inspire women to form SHGs so that they can apply for bank loans easily. I also apprise them about government schemes and help them get bank linkages,” she said.

Lending a helping hand

Initially, the revolving fund worth Rs 15,000 as corpus is paid to an SHG comprising 10 members. The amount keeps on rotating among the women based on their needs. Only if the SHG stops functioning, it has to be returned, said NRLM young professional Sandhya Baghel who works in Lohaniguda block of Bastar.

Baghel added that as women are gradually becoming aware, they are quickly forming SHGs and moving forward in their respective areas. “People like me tell women to continue their SHGs without any break. If they suddenly find it problematic to run the group, they are told about ways to overcome their issues. After six months, members of an SHG receive CIF or community investment fund worth Rs 60,000. If they continue their meetings and activities, then they get a loan of Rs 1 lakh.”

Neha Dewangan, assistant project officer, NRLM, said there are at present 10,150 women’s groups across seven blocks of Bastar. Over one lakh women members are connected to NRLM through these. The officer added that various activities under NRLM picked up from 2012 onwards in Bastar. The advantage is that many women have become proactive and many of them carry out the loan processing on their own. Training is given to them free of cost and sometimes machinery is provided for their work, Dewangan added.

Diverse activities

Babli Thakur from Lohaniguda is the leader of an SHG called Jay Maa Kali which started making incense sticks in August last year. “Everything happened step by step. We got associated with NRLM in 2017 and received the initial amount of Rs 15,000. Then we went for bank linkage for loan, filled up the form and got it from the Central Bank of India.”

Thakur said all the 10 women in her group received training over a period of six days before launching the enterprise. Now, the group makes 1,000 packets per day. “Our SHG first tried investing only Rs 20,000 in the agarbatti business to see how it picks up. After making incense sticks, all of us send the packets to nearby shops and also at Bhoomgadi, a farmers’ enterprise based in district headquarters Jagdalpur. I did not have any occupation but now earning makes me happy. My SHG makes Rs 4,000 per month. Incense stick packets range from Rs 20-50 depending on the number of sticks inside the packet. The price is Rs 50 for a packet consisting of 12 sticks. Our members also make smaller ones with just five so that buyers can try out first.”

Jai Prakash Sagar informed that under NRLM, there is a sub-scheme known as the Start-up Village Entrepreneurship Programme or SVEP which started in 2017. Sagar is the block project manager in charge of SVEP in Bastar block of Bastar district. Field workers, who work under him, coordinate with SHG members, arrange meetings and speak about the benefits of the scheme. Loans can even go up to Rs 5 lakh, he informed.

Baghel explained that all kinds of livelihood activities have picked up among women in Bastar under NRLM. Some women even carry out work on vermicomposting. Jaimani Thakur, a resident of Badrenga village, said she works as a bookkeeper in an SHG which makes ready-to-eat powder used to make food items in anganwadis. “Women are getting all kinds of benefits by forming SHGs and getting bank loans. Most of them used to sell stuff at weekly rural markets on a small-scale but now there has been a scale-up in every activity. The women are now in charge and also get to visit many places outside their homes.” Another block project manager Dilip Kumar said every kind of help is being extended so that rural women can move forward in life.