KOLKATA: Plunging family finances and joblessness caused by lockdowns proved vital, as a record number of women in West Bengal venture into small businesses. In the past nine months, 40 lakh women attached to self-help groups in rural pockets of the state took home a total of Rs 6,000 crore as loans.
According to the state panchayat department, more women are turning up to avail of loans to ease financial stress, burden on children’s education and daily nutrition.The women availed the financial assistance under the state government’s Anandadhara scheme after getting involved with the self-help groups. A big chunk of these loans was availed of in districts like South 24 Parganas, Birbhum, Hooghly, Murshidabad and Cooch Behar.
Hasina Bibi of Domkol in Murshidabad, the district from where most migrant labourers go over to the other states, said, “My husband was a fisheries worker in Andhra Pradesh and he had to return home after the lockdown in 2020. Once it was lifted gradually, he was reinstated. We spent all our savings to feed ourselves. I joined the self-help group and took training in knitting. I took a loan of Rs 2 lakh and now I am manufacturing garments for women.”
The Anandadhara scheme aims at creating efficient and effective institutional platforms for rural poor, and improving access financial services.Lakhs of migrant workers were left with no option other than returning home after the lockdown in 2020, said a panchayat department official. ‘’Many of them was not re-employed by their employees. They also could not manage alternative employment in the districts where they reside. In such a situation, scores of homemakers have come forward to run their families,’’ said the panchayat official.
Dipali Jana, another homemaker, recounted her plight. ‘‘My husband was a brick kiln worker. During lockdown, he lost his job which was the only medium to run my five-member family. I could not find a way to run my family. My three children were suffering from pangs of hunger,’’ she said.‘‘I applied for a loan of Rs 1 lakh to purchase cattle and chickens. Now, I earn enough to secure bread and butter for my family through egg and milk production.”The scheme offers loan up to Rs 3 lakh at 7 per cent interest. “If a borrower pays monthly installments on time, she will be given a subsidy of 5 per cent on the interest rate,’’ said the official.
The Bengal government is looking to enlist 1 crore women under the Anandadhara scheme by the end of this fiscal. Currently, over 92 lakh women and 9.17 lakh SHGs are associated with the scheme.