Rural India to get public transport with women behind steering wheel

Moving to improve public transportation in rural India, the Centre has decided to involve women self-help groups (SHGs) in the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Parivahan Yojana which is expected to be launched on August 15 this year. Amarjeet Sinha, Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, said the scheme will first be implemented across 250 blocks, including areas affected by Left-wing extremism. The SHGs will be provided interest-free loans and training to operate mini-buses, each with a capacity for 10-12 passengers. Sinha said the aim is to eventually expand the scheme to ensure that the entire length of 5 lakh kilometres of rural roads are serviced by public transport of some sort. There are 32 lakh SHGs with 3.8 crore women members across the country — many of these would be involved in the scheme, especially in rural blocks that are not serviced by public transport.

Rural Self Employment Training Institutes, Sinha said, impart driving courses at 63 training centres — these will now teach driving to women from the SHGs.

“We will start by focusing on Left-wing extremism-affected and tribal areas, that are remote and sparsely populated, where there is no mass transport currently available as it is not commercially viable. The 10-12 seater vehicles, bought for up to Rs 8 lakh, can be used for transporting people as well as poultry and agricultural produce to local markets. Our pilot study in Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh) showed that by charging a minimal fee, those operating the buses would earn enough money to repay the interest-free loan, pay the driver and bear other maintenance costs,” Sinha said.

The Parivahan Yojana, he said, would complement the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) under which the target is to construct 150 km of rural roads per day this financial year, up from 73 km per day in 2013-14.

Ministry of Rural Development officials said that initially the rural transport scheme was proposed to be rolled out as a centrally-sponsored scheme, through the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in which sixty per cent of the funding would come from the Centre and the rest from the state.

“It was the Finance Ministry which proposed that it should be taken up by the Rural Development Ministry as a livelihood programme by involving women SHGs,” Nagesh Singh, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, said.

The government will release the required amount to the Community Investment Fund that is managed by the village organisation — federation of SHGs in the village. Money from the fund will either be used by the village organisation to buy vehicles on its own and then lease it out to a SHG, or it will be given as interest-free grant to a SHG or any of its members who want to operate the service.

The scheme, which requires an initial investment of Rs 127 crore, has already been approved by the Expenditure Finance Committee. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways will ensure that permits are issued for such vehicles.

[http://indianexpress.com/article/india/rural-india-to-get-public-transport-with-women-behind-steering-wheel-4695650/ June 9, 2017]