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In Kashmir, women entrepreneurs are in prime focus after Sitharaman opens purse strings

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha in Srinagar (Image courtesy: Twitter/@ManojSinha_)

In her first visit to Kashmir as the Union Finance Minister after taking over in May 2019, Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday conducted a series of meetings with women entrepreneurs in Srinagar.  Amid inaugurating developmental works to the tune of Rs 165 crore, she had a detailed interaction with a group of women entrepreneurs, including four Kashmiri journalists, who have been running their own publications and printing presses.

Immediately after arriving in Srinagar by a special aircraft with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha from New Delhi, Sitharaman, according to sources present in the meeting, was thrilled to learn that the valley’s female journalists were operating their own businesses in the moribund media industry, facing unprecedented stress since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The Minister appreciated that the valley’s women journalists were operating as independent editors of sports and off-beat magazines. She asked Sinha to provide them with maximum possible support from his government including allotment of land for their printing units in a special category in different industrial estates.

The interaction included 60 women entrepreneurs working in a variety of sectors, including beekeeping, dairy, handicraft, journalism, copper works, and furniture manufacturing. It featured success stories of the women entrepreneurs who have been benefited under different schemes initiated by the J&K government.

Sitharaman praised the UT government’s efforts for creating a successful women entrepreneurship culture. She said it was highly reassuring to see that the women entrepreneurs in J&K had broken into the traditional male-dominated domains. She listened to inspiring stories of women entrepreneurs and how they rose above the challenges to benefit their society at the grassroots level.

"The land of Kashmir is the land of Maa Sharada and that absolute power-packed knowledge-driven energy is what has come out here. I appeal to you to move around the country and share your stories", she proposed to her audience.

Later Sitharaman interacted with the operators and beneficiaries of the flagship UMEED programme in the rural development and cooperative sector. Sinha elaborated on the objectives of UMEED and asserted that a financial assistance of Rs 1,000 crore had been extended to 54,325 Self Help Groups (SHGs) which had enrolled over 4.5 lakh women in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sinha emphasised that his government was empowering women entrepreneurs through a slew of focused programmes such as 'UMEED’, ‘SAATH’ and ‘HAUSLA'. “Through these programs a new confidence, a new spirit is being created by making them more capable so that half of the population could play a participatory and constructive role in the journey of J&K’s progress”, he said.

Sinha said that encouraged by the success of UMEED, the UT government had set a target of connecting one lakh additional rural women to the programme in the current year. Along with this, J&K Livelihood Mission has launched the 'SAATH' initiative, under which a training programme has also been started to select 500 women entrepreneurs from rural areas to expand their business.

“Since 70 percent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir is dependent on agriculture, we have started another innovative program on women empowerment in rural areas. A cadre of ‘Krishi Sakhi’ and ‘Pashu Sakhi’ with 938 women has been created in different districts of the UT, which will train 75,000 women farmers associated with agriculture and horticulture for sustainable and integrated farming. The initiative will also give impetus to the reforms in the agriculture sector, the backbone of the economy”, Sinha said.

‘UMEED Women Haat’ has been started with the aim of providing a market to the self-help group of women, through which they can not only sell their manufactured goods at one place, besides facilitating market linkages for the future. The 40 Model Clusters for women, e-Marketing platforms and ‘Digipay Sakhi’ are going to channelize the inner strength and potential of women and allow them to scale new heights.

Sitharaman, with LG Sinha, inaugurated works worth Rs 130.49 crore pertaining to Health, Education, Urban Infrastructure and Disaster Management. She also laid the foundation stone for the Union Territory Level Emergency Operation Centre and SCADA control building at Budgam, involving estimated expenditure of Rs 34.88 crore under the Jhelum and Tawi Flood Recovery Project (JTFRP).

The sub-projects are part of the JTFRP which is assisted by a credit of $250 million from the World Bank. The project was started in Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of the devastating floods of September 2014, which severely affected low-lying areas of Anantnag, Srinagar, and adjoining districts causing immense damage to housing, livelihoods and roads and bridges.

JTFRP has been under implementation by the Government of J&K as part of the Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP) for J&K since April 2016. The project aims at both restoring essential services disrupted by the floods and improving the design standard and practices to increase resilience.

The high social impact of JTFRP was felt in the coronavirus pandemic response by the UT Government wherein an amount of $50 million was allocated and utilized for the COVID-19 response, by activating the Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC) under the project. Medical equipment worth Rs. 290 crore and 30 oxygen generating plants at a total cost of Rs 75 crore were procured thereby giving a boost to the health infrastructure to cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic.

On the occasion, Sitharaman launched two youth-oriented employment generation schemes of Mission Youth viz. Rise Together (Community Entrepreneurship Development program) and Nav Parivartan (Youth Innovation Promotion Program). She also handed over cheques of Rs 1 lakh each to students of LG Super 75 scholarship. The dream of the Prime Minister to develop each part of the country equally is fulfilled vigorously and J&K is participating in this journey in letter and spirit, she said.

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