Banking on Trust

On any given day you will see the women of Gajera, Vedach, Kareli and Piludara of Jambusar Taluka walk into the bank with an air of nonchalance. This confidence did not come easy. When Aatapi began work in this region, the women
preferred to take loans from exploitative money lenders at exorbitant interest rates, The banks and the women did not trust each other, women were unwilling to deal with banks and banks managers were not sympathetic to women’s needs.

With basics being addressed by small loans of Rs 1000 to Rs 5000 through their self-help groups, larger needs had started emerging — they wanted to redeem their mortgaged land and jewellery, buy new cattle for animal husbandry, seeds for the coming agriculture season and perhaps build a pucca house. All this was beyond their present savings. Access to credit through banks was critical for seizing economic opportunities, When Aatapi approached banks for linking women self-help groups with banks to avail low interest loans, the banks were reluctant, more so as the villages in the region had a history of high defaults in loan repayment. Determined, Aatapi persisted until the banks yielded.

Bank of Baroda, Gajera branch gave their first loans to five widows. On successful repayment of these loans, the banks softened their stance and agreed to give low interest loans within the format of the Baroda Kisan Group Loan Scheme (Joint Liability Group scheme) to seven groups with maximum amount of Rs 10,000.

Women in SHGs have imbibed the habit of disciplined repayment, hence recovery rates are high and consistent – 98 percent. The loan facility has been extended to men and women including widows and persons with disability across four villages. The loan amount has been increased with enhanced trust. Agriculture is the main purpose for which loans are sought; Loans to buy buffaloes and start small enterprises are also procured through banks. Building this bridge of trust has been a crucial step in the economic empowerment of the community and the availability of loans to women has enhanced their status in their families. They are consulted for financial decision making.

Through this scheme women availed bank loans amounting to Rs. 3 crore for agriculture, animal husbandry, while some used it to redeem their mortgaged land and gold from money lenders between 2013 to 2017.