ODISHA: March 5, 2020 was a red-letter day for the 10-member Jay Maa Tulasi women Self Help Group (SHG) of Binika in Sonepur district when they received Rs 5.29 lakh in their bank account. This was for the first time that they had earned in lakhs.
Two months later they received Rs 5.94 lakh more to become the first women group to earn Rs 11.24 lakh from paddy procurement in kharif season. The SHG topped the State by pocketing a commission of Rs 24.32 lakh during the rabi season. The group procured 3,597-tonne paddy in Kharif and 7,784 tonnes in rabi seasons. You got it right. Women SGHs in Odisha are now earning lakhs and reshaping their lives by actively taking part in paddy procurement, once considered a male bastion.
Unknown to the trade until a couple of years back, they have now become role models for their counterparts in other states. Registered in 2008, the Tulasi SHG was dealing with homemade semi-processed food items like badi, papad and pickles besides stitching items and tailoring.
“The earning was never beyond Rs 5000 then. Our group was completely transformed after we got into paddy procurement. Not only are we leading a decent life, but we have also generated income opportunities for others,” said Jayashree Baboo, president of the group. It all started after the state cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on May 29, 2019 took a historic decision approving a proposal to tie up WSHGs with different departments for provisioning of government services and procurement amounting to Rs 5,000 crore over five years in a structured manner.
Paddy procurement success
Paddy procurement was initially piloted in 17 Gram Panchayats of Kalahandi during 2018-19 rabi season. Over 24.71 lakh quintal of paddy was procured by 17 SGHs resulting in a turnover of Rs 43.26 crore and commission of Rs 77.25 lakh, an average of Rs 4.5 lakh per group. Moved by the remarkable success, the State government decided to scale it up and engaged 199 WSHGs in 11 districts in kharif 2019-20 procurement. Nearly 23.07 lakh quintal of paddy amounting to Rs 419 crore was procured generating a commission worth Rs 7.2 crore. During Kharif 2021-22, 562 WSHGs were engaged in paddy procurement in 20 districts.
While 74.85 lakh quintal of paddy amounting to Rs 1,452 crore was procured, the members earned commission worth Rs 23.39 crore. The women groups have helped the Civil Supplies Corporation procure 187.89 lakh tonne of paddy in the last four years and generated an earning of Rs 58.69 crore. Starting from registration of farmers through procurement automation systems to identification through bio-metric Iris scanner, the trained SHG members are doing everything needed during procurement. The groups are getting a commission of Rs 31.25 per quintal of paddy after the cost of paddy is directly credited to farmers’ accounts from Odisha State Civil Supplies Corporation.
Once dependent on their male family members, the women SHG members are now inspiring the rural folk to become self-reliant, secure a sustainable livelihood, better healthcare and improved financial health. SHG leader Jayanti Ekka from Sundargarh district has been the face of women empowerment in Odisha ever since she caught everyone’s attention for her fiery speech during the last Make-in-Odisha conclave evoking a standing ovation from Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Born to a poor farmer, Jayanti was not good at academics. She gathered the courage to start Kalyani group with a nominal loan of Rs 15,000 in 2003 and then she never looked back. Kalyani, which has diversified into fly-ash brick making, now employs about a dozen women and is supporting around 50 families in Sundargarh district having over 15,000 SHGs.
Promotion of WSHGs under the aegis of ‘Mission Shakti’ programme was adopted on the eve of International Women’s Day in 2001 as a key strategy for achieving women’s empowerment in Odisha. It started with an initial objective of forming 2 lakh groups in two years. By 2006-07, as many as 2,48,689 women SHGs had been formed and it rose to 3,14,646 by March 2017.
Additional 2,87,367 WSHGs were formed on a mission mode in the next two years and now Mission Shakti has become a silent revolution in the State with 6,02,013 WSHGs comprising 70,00,010 women. Buoyed over the success of the movement, Odisha Government made Mission Shakti a separate Department bringing all SHG-centric initiatives under one umbrella.
The journey of Mission Shakti from a programme to a Directorate and subsequently to a dedicated ‘Department of Mission Shakti’ is a testimony of women’s empowerment in the State. In convergence with 15 departments, Mission Shakti has achieved sizable progress in providing business worth Rs 1,200 crore to over one lakh SHGs generating income of Rs 300 crore. At a time when increased importance is given to innovation, technology and self-sustenance in the post-Covid era and economically weaker sections have been facing an acute loss of jobs and income, the SHG movement in the State has come a long way in pushing several families out of poverty.
SHGs bridge banking gap
To ensure last-mile delivery of banking services in unbanked and under-banked Gram Panchayats, the State government has engaged SHG members as Business Correspondent Agents (BCAs). As many as 2,203 SHG members have been on board as BCAs and transactions amounting to Rs 880.84 crore have been undertaken by these BCAs.
“With the income generated from different works carried out by our group, I could marry off my daughter. I have also planned to send my only son off for higher studies. Thanks to the initiative of the government, we are now leading a life with dignity and respect. This is so satisfying,” said single mother Jyotsnamayi Dandasena, president of Maa Saraswati SHG at Madanpur in Kalahandi district. The unique livelihood model adopted by Mission Shakti has not only provided WSHGs with huge business, but the groups have also become torchbearers of a new socio-economic revolution.
Considering the selfless contribution and services rendered by the members, financial support amounting to Rs 217 crore per annum towards meeting fees and fixed travelling allowances for the Executive Committee members has been provisioned by the government. Similarly, the construction of one Mission Shakti Gruha in each GP and each urban local body across the state has been taken up to facilitate regular meeting of SHGs and provide retail outlets.
So far, 7,877 Gruhas have been sanctioned of which 3,796 Gruhas have been completed with toilet and water supply facilities. Commissioner-cum-Secretary of Mission Shakti Department Sujata R Karthikeyan said the convergence model integrated with technology is paving way for transformative change in women empowerment in Odisha and with access to the resources they need, the women are breaking through the shackles of poverty, building stability for themselves and making a positive impact in their communities.
“We will expand it and involve more SHGs. Since a huge volume of money is involved, we do not want middlemen to get involved. The support should reach genuine SHGs boosting the rural economy. We have started linking up the SHG producers groups with different trading organisations of national and international repute so that they can get market price for their produces, which will also go global. It will be a win-win situation for all,” she said. -- Woes of the world stem from the fact that humans, by and large, subscribe to a foolish notion that conservation is for nature’s benefit...