Umeed To Empower?


 Umeed: a GOI funded flagship project to empower women in conflict ridden Kashmir, was launched by Congress scion Rahul Gandhi amidst media glare in Budgam recently. Given its nature, analysts, however, are skeptical about the viability of the scheme, Tasavur Mushtaq reports. 

Rahul Gandhi launching UMEED in Budgam.Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Rahul Gandhi launching UMEED in Budgam.Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Neelofar speaks uninterrupted for hours about, Umeed- The Hope, a Government of India sponsored scheme aimed to empower women in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India.

Neelofar, a resident of Lar in district Ganderbal, is one of the main motivators and ambassadors of flagship project Umeed in Kashmir.

Her job is to make women understand the benefits of this scheme. In order to make her point, Neelofar usually refers to Vuolwada village in Andhra Pradesh, where a woman named Subama once lived in abject poverty. With the help of this scheme, she (Subama) now owns 40 gram gold, 11 buffalos and 16 acre land.

Neelofar was part of the four women group who had visited Andra Pradesh to see how the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) is making women self-dependent.

The pilot project was launched from Khan Sahab (Budgam), Lar (Ganderbal), Basohli (Udhampur) and Chenani (Kathua) simultaneously.

Originally a Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) scheme, it was restructured as NRLM and launched recently by Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi along with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

Apparently staking credit for introducing project Umeed, a scheme under National Rural Livelihood Mission, Rahul skipped key issues that are sensitive but vital for the people in Kashmir. He instead chose to speak at length about empowerment of people especially women involving various central government initiatives.

During the state-wise launch of Umeed at Budgam, Rahul Gandhi told press that the launch of scheme was made possible only after a group of students from Kashmir University visited Ameeti (UP) to study the model and its successful implementation.

Next was Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s turn to visit the Self Help Groups (SHGs) in UP to see the feasibility of the model. Finally it was union minister Jai Ram Ramesh who started implementing the scheme in four blocks. Now it is a state wide project. “I took Chief Minister Omar Abdullah with me to Amethi so that he could see for himself the success of this programme”, Rahul said, adding that the trip had culminated in the launch of Umeed in Jammu and Kashmir.

Without missing the opportunity,  Omar hailed his grandfather Sheikh Abdullah for eradicating poverty in Kashmir by conferring land ownership right on landless farmers. “Poverty is not as acute a concern in Jammu and Kashmir as in other states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh,” said Omar.

The project is aimed at encouraging rural women to make small savings so that their SHGs will eventually become bankable at reduced rate of interest. Rahul announced that Rs 755 crore centrally funded Umeed project will be implemented across the state involving 900 thousand women in 143 blocks, covering 4,098 panchayats of the state.

The government has roped in SUPR, an Andhra Pardesh based company to train and guide groups in J&K, at an annual cost of Rs 3.5 crore. SUPR will send Community Resource Persons (CRPs) and Professional Resource Persons (PRPs) to make people understand how to come out of the poverty. The CRPs and PRPs are themselves beneficiary of this scheme.

Rahul is hopeful that the scheme will change socio-economic conditions of the women in state. But people are skeptical about its success in Kashmir. “The model is successful in South India where women who had nothing to eat have made fortunes. The reason is that in that part of India there is less than one per cent of default in repayment, which is not the case in North India,” said senior officer privy to the development on condition of anonymity.

“It is a very good poverty elimination scheme, but in north India repayment is question mark and J&K is no exception,” the officer said.

Apart from Umeed, there are many other flagship programs currently being implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, but insiders say that almost every scheme is marred by corruption and mismanagement. “We have corruption in MNREGA and other schemes,” an officer said wishing not to be named.

 “In my career, I have seen only two per cent women who actually work, rest are full of excuses,” said another officer while raising suspicion over the success of this scheme.

No doubt the initiative to empower women by GOI in conflict ridden Kashmir is a welcome step, but experts are highly skeptical about its success.

Citing example of Himayat, another GOI funded youth oriented initiative, senior officer on condition of anonymity said that central government tried to channelize ‘stone pelters’ by engaging them in different jobs, but the problem does not lie in unemployment. “See ‘Himayat’ is just a scheme to neutralize stone pelting youth and who knows what ‘Umeed’ would bring out,” he asked.

While referring to Umeed a university student told Kashmir Life, “Schemes like Umeed can never balm our bruises.”



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