In a progressive move, the central government has decided to launch mini-buses driven by women in rural areas of the country. It will be done through the collaboration of women self-help groups (SHGs) and the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Parivahan Yojana. The programme is expected to be launched by August this year. The initiative is being discussed with 250 blocks, including areas affected by Left-wing extremism.

The government will be providing interest-free loans and training to operate mini-buses. Each bus will have a capacity of 10-12 passengers. Amarjeet Sinha, Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, said that the focus of this scheme will be to provide public transport in the entire length of  5 lakh kilometres of rural roads, reported Indian Express.  There is a slew of rural areas not having public transport connectivity, so this project might become a great facilitator of that. A total of 3.8 crore women are a part of 32 lakh SHGs in the country and many of these will join in to support the scheme.

Sinha said that Rural Self Employment Training Institutes, which teach women to drive at 63 of its training centres, will train these women to drive the mini-buses.

“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,” Sinha said.

“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,” he said.

This scheme will also add to the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) which aims to build 150 km of rural roads per day this financial year, up from 73 km per day in 2013-14. Initially, the public transport system was going to be a centrally-sponsored scheme, through the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in which 60 per cent of the funding would come from the Centre and the rest from the state. But now the Rural Development Ministry has taken up the project to make it into a livelihood programme for the women members of SHGs.

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“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,” said Nagesh Singh, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development.

The Centre is going to grant the required amount to Community Investment Fund managed by the village organisation, which is the federation of SHG. The money will be used by the village organisation to buy vehicles of their own and then rent them out to SHGs or the amount will be distributed as interest-free grant to a SHG or any of its members who want to operate the service.

It has been approved by the Expenditure Finance Committee and requires an initial investment of Rs 127 crore. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has assured permits for the minibuses.

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