Development of Women in Rural Areas: A Study of DWCRA in Thrissur District (Abstract)

U. T. Damayanthi*

The Government has been emphasising the need for development of rural women and their involvement in developmental activities. Nevertheless, the five decades of planned development in India have not achieved much for women, especially rural women. A systematic analysis of the status and role of women in rural development strategies started with the National Plan of Action for Women (1976). For the first time a chapter on Women and Development appeared in the VIth Five-Year Plan (1980-85).

It was observed that the flow of financial assistance to women was too marginal to enable them to cross the poverty line though women, as members of the target group, had been entitled to certain benefits under the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP). It was felt therefore that a separate scheme, which would motivate women to come together and engage themselves in economically viable activities, should be drawn up. With this end in view, the Union Government in September 1982 launched Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) as a sub-scheme of IRDP on a pilot basis. Low-female literacy and high infant mortality rates were the criteria for choosing the districts. It was proposed to cover all the districts in the country under the scheme by the end of VIIIth Plan.

The main objective of DWCRA is to improve the socio-economic, health, and educational status of rural women by providing financial assistance and creating employment opportunities for them to become self-reliant and to raise their standard of living. The target group of DWCRA is the same as that under IRDP, ie. the families living below the poverty line. However, the basic difference with IRDP lies in that under DWCRA, it is not an individual family which receives assistance, but a group of families. The scheme envisages the formation of groups each consisting of 15 to 20 women.

In Kerala, the programme was introduced in 1983-'84. By 1993-'94, it covered all the districts in the State. The present study intends to examine the performance of DWCRA in Thrissur district where it was introduced in 1993-'94.

The basic objectives of the present study are to examine: (i) the progress of the scheme; (ii) the extent to which the scheme has succeeded in achieving its stipulated objectives; and (iii) the performance of the units and to identify their problems and constraints.

The overall progress of implementation of the programme in the district is assessed with the help of secondary data collected from District Rural Development Authority (DRDA), Thrissur and from the various Block Panchayat offices. Detailed discussions were held with Project Officer and Assistant Project Officer (Women Development), DRDA, Thrissur, about the performance of the programme in the district.

Block-level information was collected from different block panchayats with the help of a questionnaire. The overall performance of the programme in the respective block panchayats was categorised with the help of information collected from the BDOs/Mukhya Sevikas. Ten blocks were selected as the sample for in-depth analysis. The sample blocks were selected in such a way as to get a representative sample by incorporating all the three categories, ie. blocks with ‘good’, ‘moderate’, and ‘poor’ performance.

Altogether, there exist 119 DWCRA units in the 10 selected sample blocks. Information about various aspects of functioning of the units such as organisation of the group, mobilisation of finance, selection of income-generating activities, training, production, and marketing and loan repayment was gathered from the units with the help of a detailed interview schedule. Details about their assets and liabilities were also collected.

The level of performance of the various units has been measured with the help of a Composite Performance Index worked out exclusively for this purpose by incorporating different variables that are relevant to the system. A detailed socio-economic survey of the concerned households has been conducted to study the impact of the programme on the beneficiaries.

Of the total 119 units in the selected blocks, 50 units belong to this category, ie. units started before April 1995. These 50 units constitute 71 per cent of the total DWCRA units in this category in the district. Four beneficiaries from each of the sample units are randomly selected. A survey was conducted to find out the socio-economic characteristics of the beneficiaries’ households, the changes in the asset position of these households, improvements, if any, in their housing and other living conditions, and to find out the beneficiaries’ own rating of the extent of benefit they derived from the scheme.

Finally, an attempt is made to crosscheck some of the information gathered from the units, measures with that obtained from the banks, which provided the loans. Two banks from each of the sample blocks were selected randomly for this purpose. The field study was conducted during May-July 1997 and the collected data refers to the period before April 1997.

The following is the summary of the findings. We find that despite the slow progress during the initial years, the programme has picked up momentum both in terms of physical and financial criteria. In physical terms, nearly 72 per cent of the target was achieved by the end of March 1997.

Nearly Rs 51 lakh were distributed to 226 units as Revolving Fund, (at an average of Rs 20,964 per unit). The programme absorbed 2,412 persons as members, of whom 743 belonged to SCs/STs. However, 169 members dropped out later from the scheme for several reasons. The groups undertook a variety of income-generating activities. Among them, food processing and edible items, weaving of various types, animal husbandry and tailoring and manufacture of readymade garments accounted for almost 60 per cent of the total number of units in the district.

Further, 172 thrift and credit groups were organised by the units and a sum of Rs 9,12,822 deposited with the banks that worked out to an average amount of Rs 5,307 per unit. The DRDA released Rs 6,71,825 to their units as a matching grant to serve as an incentive for saving and depositing out of projects.

Our first stage survey data showed that in general, the programme was successful in the majority of the Block panchayats, although the degree of success varied among them. Among the activities, weaving, tailoring and readymade garment making were economically more viable and efficient than others. Umbrella, bag and chappal making units were the most non-viable among them. Production of edible items and animal husbandry were also found viable, but only to a lesser extent.

The number of units that showed very poor performance was nine; only six units registered very good performance. Only 15 per cent of the total sample beneficiaries derived marked improvement in their household income and thereby cross the poverty line. In terms of improvement in the asset position, only 15 per cent experienced a positive change. No improvement was noticed in the housing conditions of the beneficiaries.

In the light of the findings of the study, we draw the following conclusions:

Identification and selection of members for the scheme has to be made carefully. The unemployed womenfolk within the age group of 18-60, whose opportunity cost should be near zero, belonging to the weaker sections should be the target groups.

The proper selection of activity for the ‘group’ is crucial for its survival and expansion. Efforts should be made to identify the suitable activity based on resources, skills, and markets. The resource for the activity must be either available locally or procurable easily and economically. Banks are hesitant to release the required amounts in the first instalment.

The training facilities given to the DWCRA members do not often reach the required level. Certain activities require intensive, long periods of training. The overall responsibility of overseeing and guiding the activities of the units vests with the group organiser. One of the most crucial problems faced by many of the units is the marketing. The quality of the product does not receive the attention it deserves in many of the units. Some of the DWCRA products sold in the markets are of substandard quality and hence fail to command demand on a substantial basis.

To ensure successful functioning of the groups, constant vigilance on the part of the officials concerned is needed. The visits and inspections by the officials should not be confined to mere assessment of performance of the units; they should also enable the officials to identify the constraints and problems faced by the units. District and block level officials do not have, at present, the discretion to change a group or its activities. Some units have become defunct or dead. The groups should be allowed the freedom of choice in their activities.

In several units, there is a high degree of under-utilisation of the available labour time. This is because of the fact that the activity undertaken by the unit does not provide for the full utilisation of the labour power of its members. The reservation for the SC/ST members in the scheme should be relaxed so that ‘groups’ could be organised even without the prescribed number of SC/ST members. In areas where concentration of SC population is high, groups may be organised exclusively for them. A common complaint of the units was that they do not have a secure source of technical support to carry out tasks which they find difficult to do on their own.

In sum, it is an integrated approach which generates the kind of changes needed for creating conditions for women to unfold their development potential to the fullest extent that is needed. There should be greater involvement of line departments (such as agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, and social welfare) in the implementation of the scheme. This also requires integration of DWCRA schemes with other rural development schemes. The members of the same household should not be prevented from becoming beneficiaries of different schemes. Such an approach is essential for strengthening the total impact of the programme on the beneficiary households.

* U. T. Damayanthi is Reader at Department of Economics, Dr John Matthai Centre, Aranattukara, Thrissur.