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All for the poor

Print edition : Dec 07, 2007 T+T-

The government has taken initiatives to improve the living standards of the poor in the villages.

in HyderabadDistrict Collector D.

A SILENT revolution is sweeping across Andhra Pradesh every third woman among the rural poor in the State is joining the Indira Kranti Patham (IKP), a poverty alleviation programme of the State government.

The IKP is part of a series of welfare measures initiated in 2004 by the Congress government of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy soon after it assumed office. All of them are beginning to yield results. While the IKP single-handedly took care of the uplift of the rural poor, other programmes for the weaker sections and minorities have also brought about a sea change in living conditions of the poor.

The IKP is typical of the systematic efforts made in the State over the past 15 years to encourage rural women to form self-help groups (SHGs). It is the single largest grass-roots-level empowerment programme for women in South Asia. It is run by the Society for the Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), an autonomous body registered under the Public Societies Act. The SERPs objective is to help the 80-lakh poor families in 22 rural districts of the State to improve their livelihoods. All households below the poverty line are the IKPs target group.

In its effort to help the poor improve their status by providing comprehensive food security, an earning of Rs.5,000 a month from stable livelihoods, shelter, quality education, social acceptance and health, the SERP has encouraged the setting up of institutions that the poor themselves run. Keeping the poor as the drivers of all the initiatives and their planning, implementation and monitoring, the SERP has shown how poor women can be empowered with a little support and encouragement.

It has evolved a format that ensures maximum participation from the grass roots. Through concerted efforts at social mobilisation, a total of 6.88 lakh SHGs with a membership of 87 lakh have been formed in the 22 rural districts. The financial assistance provided through the initiative has helped people win the battle against poverty and also improve their skills.

The concept of participatory identification of the poor has contributed greatly to the success of the programme. Soon after he took charge in 2004, Rajasekhara Reddy announced an ambitious plan to provide the SHGs bank loans at an interest rate of 3 per cent. The government reimburses any interest paid by the SHGs over and above 3 per cent. The interest incentive is paid once in six months to all the SHGs that have a track record of repaying on time. An amount of Rs.160 crore was reimbursed to the eligible SHGs this year.

Continuous monitoring has helped the SHGs. Bank lending shot up to Rs.3,063 crore last year from Rs.171 crore in 2001-02. This is being scaled up to Rs.6,527 crore in 2007-08.

Minister for Rural Development G. Chinna Reddy told Frontline that the government was keen on providing loans to one crore SHGs in the next five years. The government wants Andhra Pradesh to become poverty free by 2015, once all the thrift groups are covered. Twenty-three lakh members have joined the thrift movement since 2004, when it had 67 lakh members, he said.

The SHG revolution has given collective strength and visibility to the women. From being considered marginalised sections, these empowered women today have access to smooth credit, which has helped transform their lives, Chinna Reddy said.

Women were encouraged to take up dairy farming as a key livelihood opportunity and provided loans to buy milch animals. The Andhra Pradesh Dairy Development Cooperative Federation (APDDCF) helped set up 1,200 milk procurement centres besides 60 bulk milk chilling units run by women, which are coming up at the mandal level. This initiative alone generated an income of Rs.145 crore. The State government has announced that milch animals would be made available to thrift groups at 50 per cent of the market value under the recently launched Pashu Kranti programme.

Members of the SHGs are even into procurement of farm produce in villages. Thrift groups manage procurement centres in 960 villages and these benefit farmers in nearly 5,000 villages. They procure paddy, maize, pulses, neem, castor, groundnut, coffee and cashew nut. This year alone they have procured farm produce and non-forest timber products worth Rs.219.30 crore.

Another successful welfare programme has been the purchase of land for agriculture. Up to 4,230 acres of productive and ready-to-use land with assured irrigation have been bought and handed over to 4,504 families. To encourage non-pesticide management (NPM), two lakh hectares have been brought under ecological pest management practices.

The government also announced the constitution of a nodal agency to look into the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. It also took steps to implement the Prime Ministers 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities.

An elderly woman

Though the Supreme Court struck down its announcement of 5 per cent reservation for Muslims in education and employment, the government has reiterated its commitment on reservation.

It is not just rural women but also economically and socially underprivileged youth who have benefited from community-managed institutions. One such institution is the Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM), set up by the Rural Development Department to create jobs. It is managed by a private sector cell that draws up strategy, identifies unemployed youth, sets up training institutes and forges strategic partnerships to create employment in villages, and semi-urban and urban areas.

Meera Shenoy, executive director, EGMM, said the objective in 2007-08 was to provide employment to one lakh rural youth in a public-private partnership mode. A sum of Rs.100 crore had been earmarked for this purpose. Over 45,000 youth were trained and given entry-level private jobs. The annual salaries range from Rs.18,000 to Rs.36,000, she said.

The EGMM pioneered the rural retail academies, which train rural youth for entry-level jobs in the retail sector, she said. The EGMM security academy identifies educated youth for jobs as security guards. We are formulating customised training programmes for the construction, textile and services sectors, she added.

The Rajasekhara Reddy government has sanctioned pensions to 47 lakh elderly persons, differently abled people and widows. The pension amount has been enhanced to Rs.200 from Rs.75 a month and it is disbursed through the thrift groups. Efforts are on cover 62 lakh people under the pension scheme.

The government has planned an ambitious housing programme under its flagship scheme, the Integrated Development of Interior Rural Areas and Model Municipal Areas (INDIRAMMA). The goal is to provide shelter to homeless people, numbering around 60 lakh. The programme, to be taken up in three phases, aims to make Andhra Pradesh hut free. So far, 12.50 lakh of the 23.42 lakh houses planned in phase one have been completed.

The Rajiv Arogyasri community health insurance scheme, launched on a pilot basis in Srikakulam, Mahabubnagar and Anantapur districts last year, has been welcomed by the rural poor. The scheme is to be extended to all districts by the end of 2008. Close to 20,000 patients have received treatment so far under the scheme in 76 network hospitals in the government and private sectors.

The scheme provides coverage for heart ailments, cancer treatment, neurosurgery, renal diseases, burns and poly-trauma and includes hospitalisation and surgical and therapeutic procedures up to a ceiling of Rs.1.50 lakh a family a year.