L.N. Revathy

Coimbatore, Oct 2

WHEN Ms K. Bhagyalakshmi left home 15 years ago, she was just another village girl who left the place to start a new life with her husband. After six years in the Gulf and almost a decade in the northern part of India, this woman is back home at Avvainagar on the outskirts of Coimbatore to start another chapter.

And the quiet settlement, which houses about a dozen families, most of who are agricultural coolies has been bubbling with activity since her return.

These agricultural labourers had, long before Ms Bhagyalakshmi's return got together to form the Swayam Siddha Rajiv Gandhi SHG. They were engaged in menial jobs that did not fetch them any big return.

Ms Bhagyalakshmi got the team involved in the making of oil-based snacks, and the monthly turnover, which was less than Rs 2,000 a year back, has risen to over Rs 1.5 lakh today.

"We are unable to meet the demand. Though oil-based snacks are very common traditional products, the market is huge. Our USP is in supplying quality snacks at affordable rates. We are targeting only the rural and interior pockets," she told Business Line.

What about marketing? Pat comes her reply: "About 40 women are engaged in marketing. Depending on their capacity, they take 10-15 kg of the items every day. SHG ladies are given a concession, but our principle is cash and carry, whether in purchase or sale. While we offer the item at Rs 33 a kg, these women price it between Rs 45 and Rs 50. We do not pay them any amount for their marketing efforts apart from offering a concession, since our production unit is located in an interior pocket."

The group has established a niche for ragi items. "Our supply to Thiruvananthapuram alone touches 1.5 tonnes a month. They are asking for additional quantities, but we do not have the wherewithal," says Ms Bhagyalakshmi.

The group is now trying to strike a deal with Southern Railways for contracting supply of snacks in trains that pass through Coimbatore.

On branding, she says: "We have only inserted labels, but have not branded the items because we do not have an RC (registration certificate). Registration will involve tax burden and we can ill-afford this at this juncture."

SBI supports the group and the financial assistance has risen to Rs 4.5 lakh. The group, according to Ms Bhagyalakshmi, makes it a point to repay up to Rs 12,000 a month.

In contrast to this organised group are a group of gypsies, who also enjoy financial linkage with SBI. Members who can neither read nor write control the Gayathri Amman and Kamakshi Amman SHGs. Both these groups got the second tranche of assistance of Rs 40,000 each recently.

According to Ms Sarawathy and Ms Bhagyalakshmi, the group members source the material such as nail polish, safety pins, hair clips, hair pins, bindi, etc., from Mumbai and sell it in the streets. While their earnings are just around Rs 40 a day, they proudly state that they have since managed to get out of the clutches of the local moneylender.

But what was more intriguing was the commitment from the various SHG members, numbering over 1,500, who as a community acknowledged the gypsy groups and vowed to support them by procuring the clips and other items from these people instead of running to a retail store.

They have established a settlement, constructed permanent low-cost structures, and moved in.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 3, 2005)
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