A major effort to provide banking services to the weaker and unorganised sector was the Bank Self Help Group Linkage Programme that was launched in early 1990s. The programme was started at the initiative of NABARD in 1992 to link the unorganised sector with the formal banking sector.
Working of the programme
Under this programme, banks were allowed to open savings accounts for Self-Help Groups (SHGs). SHGs are registered/unregistered entities which usually has a membership of 15 to 20 members from very low income families, usually women. They mobilize savings from members and uses the pooled funds to give loans to the needy members. Under this programme, banks provide loans to the SHGs against group guarantee and the quantum of loan could be several times the deposits placed by such SHGs with the banks. Banks should consider entire credit requirements of SHG members, namely, (a) income generation activities, (b) social needs like housing, education, marriage, etc. and (c) debt swapping".
Lending to SHGs should be included by the banks as part of their lending to the weaker sections. As per the RBI’s latest (May 2016) Priority Sector Lending norms, bank credit to members of SHGs is eligible for priority sector advance under respective categories viz., Agriculture, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Social Infrastructure and Others.
The recovery rates of loans are good and banks have found that the transaction cost of reaching the poor through SHGs is considerably lower rather than direct lending by the bank.
Savings and lending under SHG linkage
According to NABARD as on 31 March 2014, there were around 74.30 lakh savings-linked SHGs, covering over 9.7 crore poor households. The total savings of these SHGs with banks amounted to Rs 9897 crore. The number of credit-linked SHGs under the programme was around 42 lakhs.
The initial phase of SHG movement saw concentration of SHGs in the southern parts of the country, but now the SHGs have spread more to the eastern and northeastern regions where the extent of financial exclusion is greater. The Government of India has also been using the SHGs for subsidy-linked credit schemes for the poor. NABARD offers grant assistance to NGOs that promote SHGs and link them to banks.