For the womenfolk of Modhva, a village tucked away in the coastal belt of Kutch district in Gujarat, it was a memorable trip. The bus that ferried the members of the local Self Help Group to and from the Jakhau fish landing centre, about 100 km away from home, covered a distance that none of its passengers had ever done before. They were going to attend an exposure cum training session in Jakhau on current fisheries practices, designed to hone their skills as retail sellers and processers of dry and fresh fish .In Jakhau they interacted with other SHGs, sharing experiences and ideas, exploring new avenues, planning ways of working together. They were a group of ace professionals at work. A far cry from the shy, inhibited individuals, who barely stepped out of home, when their association with the Coastal Gujarat Power Limited (CGPL), the wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company, began in 2008.
The fisherfolk in Modhva represent all the local communities who live in the villages that lie within the site of the Ultra Mega Power Plant, flagship project of CGPL, and share a unique bonding with the Company.
The fishing enterprise in India, particularly in the state of Gujarat, does brisk business, locally as well as globally. CGPL, as a member of the Tata Group, believes in forging committed relationships with the local people, and had taken for holistic development of the community . It adopted an integrated development approach in these villages, with a vision of ‘lighting up the lives’ of its inhabitants for generations to come. This included building strong local institutions, stable enterprises, and most importantly, an informed community that was capable of sustaining these on its own strength. And CGPL envisaged the womenfolk to be at the helm of affairs in this regime. Because a survey initiated by the Company and conducted by its experts to gauge the socioeconomic status and expenditure pattern of women employed in fish processing factories, and to assess their contribution to the economy of the industry.
The initial steps, however, were the toughest. It was found that most of the women in the villages stayed at home and were not accustomed to stepping out for work. They had to be first persuaded and then trained to play the role envisaged for them.
The Self-help group initiative was initially launched by CGPL in early 2008. A total of 12 units were set up, comprising of hesitant but hopeful women, looking at CGPL’s Community Relations (CR) team for guidance. Today there are 49 bustling SHGs functioning across the region, led by groups of independent entrepreneurs who operate bank accounts, manage their own finances and meet once a month to plan ahead. They also explore new means of livelihood, in a bid to augment income.
Meanwhile, CGPL continues to play the role of mentor and guide. Besides organizing exposure visits like Destination Jakhau, it holds training workshops to help the fisherwomen develop skills in alternative professions. It teams up with NGOs, which have expertise in these related fields, to ensure quality work and wider dissemination.
Hamidabai, considered to be an authority Bhandni Kutchchi work, was invited to teach the art to the local women. Besides this, classes are organised to train the SHG ladies to make papads and washing powder at home. Sold at prices which are much lower than current market rates but are of excellent quality, these products have the potential to become runaway hits in the local circuits. The SHGs also provide a platform for traditional artisans to display and sell their wares.
While the CR team of CGPL sustains a diverse range of activities and programmes with the ‘neighbours’, SHGs always command the centrestage, because they seek to nurture and empower the most vulnerable yet the most effective section of the population.
But is CGPL’s bus surging ahead in the right? The response from the ground is an emphatic ‘yes’.
Say the members of SHG, Mota Kandagra, “Since we have begun saving with the SHG, we do not have to depend on anyone for money. We have an avenue to take loans to run small businesses. We have very few options to keep ourselves engaged at home,.. After the exposure visits and training programmes we now have something to occupy our minds, earn an income, and utilize our energies in doing something productive. We are thankful to CGPL for providing us a platform as important as the SHGs.”
Source: CGPL Annual Plan CR, 2014-2015, www.cof.gujarat.gov.in