The Department of Self Help Group (SHG) and Self Employment (SE) was set up in 2006 by an amendment in the West Bengal Rule of Business. The department's main activities are to implement Swami Vivekananda Swanirbhar Karmasansthan Prakalpa (SVSKP) which is aimed at generating employment and to provide interest subsidies to the Self Help Groups (SHGs). Sadhan Pande, Minister in Charge, Department of Self Help Group and Self-Employment, Government of West Bengal spoke to BE’s Kuntala Sarkar about their ongoing projects and policies.
Q. What are the current projects of your department that are aimed at benefiting rural artisans in West Bengal?
A. Self Help Groups are now engaged in various master programmes. One such programme is 'Swami Vivekananda Yojona.’ We are spending more than Rs. 350 crore to help youngsters gain various entrepreneurial skills. We will give loans amounting to Rs. 5 lakh to these youngsters. 5% of that will be given by the person himself/herself, 65% by the bank and the state government will provide 35% subsidy. There is a quota system for every district. If a poor person does not get it in his/her district through the official medium, then he/she can directly apply to us. If we feel that he/she is needy, we give the financial assistance.
Q. Your department is now organising handicraft fairs on a monthly basis. Are you thinking about any permanent market for artisans?
A. We are planning large modern markets that will only sell handicraft and handloom products in every district. We are doing this under the project ‘Karmatirtha’. From our department, we are planning to build about 50 such ‘Karmatirthas’. In Kolkata, we have taken land from Kolkata Improvement Trust (KIT) for a handicraft mall where artisans from the various districts of our state can display and sell their handicrafts. Apart from that, we are doing ‘Sabala Mela'. On the other hand, Biswa Bangla is taking their products from the SHG members. We are thinking about a marketing team that would assist SHG members and give them better marketing viability.
Q. What is the current scenario in the handloom and handicrafts sector after the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST)
A. GST has created a lot of confusion. The small entrepreneurs, they do not know how to fill up the forms of GST and the numerous regulations are very bothersome for them. Big suppliers and businessmencan have consultants. But the poor workers cannot afford it. GST is retarding business.
Q. What are the specific projects of your department that are aimed to empower women?
A. The women members of an SHG will get a loan at the interest rate of 2%. That means the bank will charge 11%. This is a policy of Mamata Banarjee's government. I sanctioned loans of around Rs. 180 crore in the last fiscal year. We give vocational trainings to rural youngsters through the project 'muktidhara’. The government has given me permission for 11 districts, 38 subdivisions and 15,000 villages.
Q. What is the marketing strategy of your department to improve the business of the handicraft sector?
A. I am developing a marketing department and will be appointing a Marketing Director and a MarketingGeneral Manager. Now, we buy SHG products from theartisans directly and they are sold through Big Bazaarand some other big retail chains. We want to do it in a more organised manner for the whole year and also export it. We are also in the process of building the office of our marketing department.