Ten years of DAY-NRLM: A critical evaluation

The National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) was launched in 2011 with support from the World Bank to improve the livelihoods of poor rural people and boost the rural economy. The NRLM utilised the ecosystem of SHGs in these rural districts to execute the Mission. In 2015, the government renamed the Mission as Deendayal Antayodaya Yojana (DAY-NRLM).

Today, ten years since the NRLM was first launched, India has the largest network of women’s SHGs across the world.

  • NRLM has multiple, overlapping goals: poverty reduction, women’s empowerment, and improving outcomes in health, nutrition, and education.
  • As of May 2021, there are 6.9 million SHGs in India with 75 million members.
  • In the current era of COVID-19, the SHGs across the country’s rural districts are crucial in mitigating the manifold impacts of the pandemic.
  • Community kitchens in states like Kerala, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh have fed migrant workers and other poor families.
  • Women in SHGs who work as ‘bank sakhis (banking correspondents)’, facilitated access to cash transfers for the COVID-19 relief package.
  • The NRLM has enabled rural families to negotiate for greater access to essential services such as education and healthcare.
  • It has had an impact on access to land for women to grow food, and on gender issues with women’s groups taking on issues like dowry, child marriage, and discrimination against girls.
  • SHGs—in the overall context of the NRLM—have had a strong impact on women’s empowerment, including political participation, knowledge of administration, financial literacy, mobility, and decision-making.
  • Increasing women’s participation in the work force
    • In 2019 the World Bank examined the NRLM’s impact on female labour force participation through women’s self-employment.
    • From 2011 to 2016-17, the villages with NRLM intervention experienced an overall increase of 20.4 percent in self-employment livelihood activities.
  • The NRLM has established structures for financial literacy and credit counselling for women.
  • The multi-sectoral approach to financial inclusion by combing micro loans, social networks and upskilling of women has found to be impactful in increasing family income.
  • It has mobilised household savings, and provided access to credit and linkages to banks.
  • It enrolled SHG members and their spouses for health, life and disability insurance.
  • Various studies have indicated that the NRLM has had positive effects on women’s decision making capabilities, by giving them more voice.
  • Most SHGs remain crowded in low-productivity, primary-sector activities, mainly agriculture, and are bogged down by low absorption of technology.
  • The programme has not led to diversify into other high-productive activities.
  • Most SHGs remain confined to being microfinance units rather than vibrant business entities.
  • Often, women themselves are unwilling or inhibited to scale up businesses or do not find support within their families.
  • The members of SHGs remain mere beneficiaries of the programmes and have little control over the decision-making process.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the functioning of SHGs—the backbone of the NRLM.
  • There has been a massive impact on the savings and income-generating activities of these SHGs.
  • Compared to MGNREGS, the NRLM has historically received minuscule allocations.
  • In its next phase, the NRLM must aim to improve livelihoods by expanding entrepreneurship and creating income opportunities both on-and off-farm.
  • The NRLM should tap the startup and private sector space.
  • Kerala’s Kudumbshree which again has shown the way. In 2019, it tied up with Amazon for its programme Amazon Saheli, through which it promotes women entrepreneurs by selling their products to Amazon customers.
  • The current FY budget is channelling more funds to the NRLM is a step in the right direction.
  • Putting more money into the Mission can help make it a truly transformative programme.
  • If the issues identified above could be addressed as a matter of urgent concern, the NRLM could prove to be key to rebuilding lives in rural India.

DAY-NRLM is a vital scheme which is imperative in the view of continuous monsoon failures and agrarian distress seen in recent years in Rural India. The scheme helps in sustainable development of the rural people with skilling, job creation and alternative livelihoods across genders. The key to success of DAY-NRLM lies at the core of its successful implementation at the grass-roots level.