Self-help groups in Assam transform rural economy (Feature)

June 1st, 2008 - 12:59 pm ICT by admin  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Nagaon (Assam), June 1 (IANS) Karuna Kalita was once an explosives expert with the terror group United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). But he got fed up with life in the jungles and surrendered in 2003. He opted for a new life by forming a self-help group (SHG). The 36-year-old former rebel, who is a father of two, is today into mechanised farming, growing paddy in an acre of land, besides cultivating cabbage, mustard, and bhut jolokia - the hottest chilli on earth - at his native Dhing village in the central Assam district of Nagaon.

“I have 12 other members in my SHG and we are working hard. Last year we earned about Rs.1 million,” Kalita said before he jumped into his tractor and set off for work.

From former separatists to housewives to educated but unemployed youths, thousands of people in the northeastern state of Assam are pushing micro-enterprises into profitable business ventures, thereby turning around the region’s rural economy.

There are more than 90,000 SHGs working in diverse fields in rural Assam - the whopping number being an indicator of the success of the central government-aided venture in working towards development and boosting the rural economy.

“Earlier, earning Rs.3,000 per month was unthinkable. But now after setting up an SHG, I and my seven friends are not only earning but also encouraging others like us to do something and earn a living,” said Nandeswar Dihingia, a college dropout in Dhing.

The concept of SHGs got a major impetus after New Delhi launched the Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) - a programme aimed at bringing families above the poverty line by ensuring a sustainable level of income over a period of time.

“The SHG scheme has led to a silent economic revolution sweeping through rural Assam. This is a good sign as people are getting involved in self-enterprise,” Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.

Under the programme, SHGs can avail themselves of assistance in the form of bank loans, supported by back-ended government subsidy - a group can avail itself of a government subsidy up to Rs.125,000.

From dairy to mechanised farming, weavin, poultry, food processing units and mushroom cultivation, people in Assam’s countryside are busy setting up micro-enterprises by forming SHGs.

“We are now self-reliant and able to speak with our heads high,” said Rupanjali Gharphulia. Rupanjali along with a dozen-odd housewives had opened a poultry farm with bank loans and is today making a substantial profit.

The self-help group movement has indirectly come to perform the role of peacemaker in a state where militancy is a problem.

“One can only hope this movement indirectly helps solve the region’s growing unemployment problem, which in turn could tame insurgency in the state,” Assam Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Chandan Brahma said.

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