The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Failure slur on self-help project

Calcutta, Nov. 5: A prominent NGO today said Bengal’s venture into micro-credit for the rural poor has failed to make any headway, but the government contests the claim.

Amalendu Halder, project co-ordinator of the Loknath Divine Life Mission, a Calcutta-based NGO, claimed the failure was evident in “the many loopholes” in the below-poverty-line and the above-poverty-line estimates. “The venture has dismally failed,” he said.

But government officials were quick to shoot it down, saying the Loknath Mission and other NGOs operating in micro-credit had not adequately familiarised themselves with the working of the various schemes.

“Loopholes or problems are situation-specific; at times they do vary widely but we try to sort these out as thoroughly as practicable by way of government supervision,” said Bhaskar Pal, a senior official in Bishnupur.

Broadly, the Swarna Jayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojana, a rural self-employment project jointly launched by the Centre and the state government, has been in operation for two years.

Potential beneficiaries either directly approach the district rural development cells manned by West Bengal Civil Service officers for approval or their cases are forwarded by NGOs.

Haldar said the project faces subsidy and incentive-related financial irregularities that also bedevil many other schemes of the panchayats. BPL groups receive subsidies ranging from Rs 7,500-10,000 per Rs 1-lakh loan granted by banks.

There are complaints that bank loans so extended to self-help groups under this project are not free from irregularities.

However, Pal said only nationalised, cooperative and gramin banks are authorised to extend loans and so far no reports of irregularities have reached the government.

Sources in the State Institute of Panchayats and Rural Development confirmed there are widespread irregularities in implementation of the scheme. “It’s a fact that there are serious grievances among self-help groups regarding APL and BPL estimates although there exist clear-cut Planning Commission guidelines in this regard. Anomalies have distorted the lists, thanks to vested vote bank interests of rural politicians,” said an SIPRD official on condition of anonymity.

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