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Government move may drag 15,000 women back to poverty

Centre decides to shut Suvarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojna — a scheme that had helped over 1 lakh people in Mumbai beat poverty by starting small businesses. Affected women say they may be forced to return to their old lives or simply starve as a result of the move

Less than a decade ago, Lata Mane was a sex-worker, Vidya Khustale a poor homemaker, Jayashree Kamble a struggling mother and Manju Bhagvat a starving teenager. Today Mane works with HIV patients, Khustale makes perfumes and decorative candles, Kamble runs an anganwadi group and Bhagvat sells cakes from her home. They, along with several thousand other women, found a new meaning to life when they were rescued from abject poverty and given grants and training to run their pwn businesses thanks to the central government-run Suvarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojna (SJSRY).


Lata Mane (centre), who was once a sex-worker, now works to improve the lot of HIV-AIDS patients in the city. PICS/PRADEEP DHIVAR 

Their shops, businesses and jobs helped pull their families out of poverty. Yet, come March 31 and the central government, in all its wisdom will pull the plug on the project — leaving these women with no financial help and in serious danger of falling back below the poverty line. There are currently around 1,000 such self-help groups and nearly 15,000 women who benefit from the scheme.

New scheme: will it work?
On its part the government says it is starting a new scheme — the National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) — that will focus on helping everyone from beggars, the homeless and the jobless, with money. According to the new scheme as long as a group of such people come together and come up with a business plan, they will be eligible for a one time aid to the tune of Rs 10,000, irrespective of the number of people in a group.


(L-R) Manju Bhagvat, Shraddha Mandav and Ranjana Shinde make cakes and chocolates thanks to the funds sanctioned under SJSRY

In the earlier SJSRY scheme by compariison, each member of a group would receive a one-time payout of Rs 2000 — a clear incentive to these poor women to work in larger groups so that they could have additional capital to sustain their businesses. Further, whenever any group took a loan to expand their business, while the lender bank provided 60 per cent of the loan amount, the yojna backed it up with 35 per cent, asking the self-help group concerned to pump in the remaining five per cent. The new scheme has none of these provisions.

Many of these women are now up in arms against the government decision. A community development officer from BMC who has been involved in development and training of these self-help groups said, “All the important components of SJSRY are missing from the NULM scheme. All the hard work done by these women for the past decade will come to naught and they will slip back to poverty.”

A life paused
Lata Mane, who was once a sex-worker, now works to improve the lot of HIV-AIDS patients in the city. She left her earlier profession seven years ago when a community development officer (CDO) talked her into starting life afresh.

“I got married when I was 14 and was sold by my husband at Grant Road in 1995 from where I came to Ghatkopar.


Ratnaprabha Lavangare makes bags and pureses at her home in Ghatkopar 

For 12 years I lived in that area before the CDO asked us to start saving R50 a month and form a group of women who wanted to get out and do respectable work. I faced many hurdles. Banks refused loans, police officers abused us, but we formed a group and because we had our savings and the government scheme’s support, we managed. Where will we go now if the scheme is stopped? We have contracts with the BMC to clean roads and we also work with HIV and AIDS patients to help them. What will happen to us now,” asks a scared Mane.

Back to darkness?
Vidya Khustale stared at a dark future till 10 years ago as a poverty-stricken housewife. Today she makes perfume and decorative candles from her home and trains others in her self-help group. Her steady income has also shut up her husband who would earlier stop her from working. “I used to feel dejected as my husband didn’t allow me to work, even though her barely earned enough to feed us as a tailor. After getting trained under the yojna, I can now make candles, perfumes and scented aggarbattis. The self-help group gave me respect. Today my son is an engineer. I could educate him thanks to this scheme. I had promised so many other women in my area that they too will come out of poverty through this yojna. What now?” she asks.

Nowhere to run
Jayashree Kamble didn’t know what to feed her hungry children before the yojna rescued her. Kamble, currently runs an anganwadi centre through her her self-help group where kindergarten children study, doesn’t know what the future holds. “My husband was an alcoholic. I had three children to take care of. I took training in making food products, learnt management skills, and look how well we are doing today. Now with the scheme ending we have nowhere to go. The government wants us to go back below the poverty line again,” she alleges.
Are our ministers listening?

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