Build institutions, Empower people

It is that time of the year when certain sections of the population take stock of the income and the reserves, and then plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

For Coastal Gujarat Power Limited (CGPL), the wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company and its partners, the local entrepreneurs in the coastlands of Kutch district in Gujarat, the process has begun even earlier this year. In fact, in many ways 2015-16 can be described as a watershed year for this alliance. When the Company had identified this region as the site of its flagship scheme the 4000 MW Ultra Mega Power Plant, it had forged a committed partnership with the communities that inhabit the villages that lie within it. Its prime objective has been to improve their condition of living, by helping them to build up a solid base of livelihood options that are directly linked to natural resources.

Even while introducing a host of income generation initiatives, CGPL has focused its attention on the traditional occupation of the people here. Because community engagement is the key component of CGPL’s strategy to promote and practice sustainable development.

Following logically from here is the other signature aspect of CGPL’s activities: building local community-based institutions. Right at the outset, when it first entered ‘project site’, it organised a series of discussion sessions with Panchayat leaders; local entrepreneurs; the village womenfolk and the community at large. The agenda was to draw up a comprehensive list of community development initiatives that could be rolled out locally.

But first with support from the village panchayat, CGPL set up the Village Development Advisory Committee (VDAC) in some of the villages like Modha, Tragadi Bunder and Tragadi, which was to act as the company’s ‘first contact point’ for all development related work.

VDAC today is a powerful representative unit, strategically positioned at the centre of all of CGPL’s myriad activities with the local people.

VDAC has spawned several smaller but equally impactful Self-help groups. The members are the women folk of the fishing communities living in Mundra and Mandvi, the two talukas in the coastal belt of Kutch, Gujarat.

So while the fishing enterprise in India, particularly in the state of Gujarat, does brisk business, locally as well as globally, the Kutch community is lagging far behind in the race. CGPL, as a member of the Tata Group, believes in forging committed partnerships with local communities, and has taken this up as a challenge. It has adopted an integrated development approach in these villages. And CGPL envisaged the womenfolk to be at the helm of affairs in this regime. Because a survey 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, had found that women dominate the industry with a male to female ratio of 3:10.

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 finally launched by CGPL in early 2008. But before that dialogues were arranged with the local Panchayat on the rationale and need of SHGs in the villages. The  main objective for formation of SHG of the fishermen women  was to help the fisherwomen to become skilled finance managers.

Also, SHGs are seen as instruments for a variety of goals including empowering women, developing leadership abilities, pushing for more school enrollments, and improving nutrition and the use of birth control. Financial intermediation is generally considered an entry point to these other goals.

Has the work put in by the partners paid off? The answer lies in the glowing testimonial provided by a seasoned banker, Mr. Prakash Tripathi, Dena Bank, Mota Kandangra village.

“I have been working in the bank since 1984. The focused intervention of the Community Relations team for financial inclusion of communities is admirable. CGPL has given a lot of guidance to women in the village to form stronger SHGs. There are usually 10-20 people in a group and they contribute between Rs. 10-50 monthly. They use this money for internal lending for various purposes. It is empowering only if they use the money to generate income, for example, buy a cow which will give them returns. There are regular meetings, trainings and workshops for SHGs through CGPL. Women have become more aware; they attend meetings and trainings and then share information with their respective group members ready to take on the reins. The handing over has already begun last year, and would continue in this fiscal. The Company has, however, identified three critical areas of intervention that it would continue to focus on, as they are concerning growth and development of the entire region. Foremost amongst them is building and managing SHGs.

Source: CGPL Annual Plan CR, 2014-2015, http://www.tatapower.com/cgpl-mundra/testimonials.aspx

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