Inequity in Self Help Groups – a view from India’s centre
The self help group (SHG) methodology has evolved as a very effective microfinance delivery system in India. However, it is still far from meeting the needs of all India’s poor. This paper sets out to examine the continuing issue of inequity in the SHG programme – inequity between states, within states, within communities and within groups themselves. At state level it is clear that there is a considerable disparity in the extent to which the SHG movement has developed. The evidence suggests that poorer states are less successful in terms of SHG coverage. This can be related to the existence of poorer health, education, governance and infrastructure in these states as well.
Field studies were carried out in Jabalpur district in Madhya Pradesh to explore the question of inequity in more detail. Madhya Pradesh is one of the least successful states in terms of SHG coverage and Jabalpur district is the least successful district. Following interviews with the District Central Cooperative Bank, a number of Primary Agricultural Cooperative Societies (PACS), Regional Rural Banks (RRB) and SHG Promotion Institutions, the authors note a variety of problems including complicated bank procedures, a lack of information, a lack of coordination between agencies, a lack of effective SHG facilitators and a lack of profitable investment opportunities for group members.
The study draws on a variety of sources to assess the issue of inequity within SHGs. The result is inconclusive but with sufficient evidence to suggest that in many groups the better off do take more advantage of membership than the poorest. It is the same tendency that Marx noted – the rich generally get richer and the poor poorer. Suggested solutions to the issue of inequity include much greater initiative being shown by RRB staff to promote and work with groups not as a charitable exercise but because it is good business. Cooperative staff could benefit from opportunities to visit successful societies elsewhere and learn from their experience. At national level, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) could proactively target areas with low SHG penetration for an increase in promotional resources and staff. Overcoming inequity is a matter of institutional will.