Neglected Jaintia Hills has no RSETI

By HH Mohrmen

Farmers they say are the backbone of the state; they not only help feed the people but they also help sustain the economy of the state. Hence a government which seeks to work for the development of the state must take care of its farmers. There are different ways of reaching out to the farmers. One is by way of improving their skills on the activities that they are currently engaged in by providing them the tools and support they need and by providing them the financial support at their time of need. But in this day and age providing them opportunity to improve their skills to help enhance their income is the most urgent support that the farmers need.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added another dimension to the already complex problem of the farmers which the government needs to carefully look at. Post the corona pandemic lockdown famers need to reinvent themselves in many ways. They have been greatly affected by misfortune. Perhaps their major experience is due to the kind of farming system they practice, which is just to sustain them for a year. The lockdown made them realise that they do not have enough savings to see them through a crisis like this. The government not only needs to help them improve their skills in order to enable them to enhance their income, but it also needs to help them diversify their activities.

Perhaps the number of migrant labourers from Meghalaya who returned from the cities are not unskilled labours who can go back to farming. Although no study has been done but it is safe to assume that most of the returnees from the state are working in hospitality businesses, call centres or in other services sectors in the cities. Post the pandemic crisis the government needs to immediately provide the farmers, the returnees and even the youths who have to drop out of schools or college with some kind of training. And the only alternative that is easily available is to provide them trainings on different trades which will help them start earning their livelihoods.

Unfortunately it is now obvious that the government is not prepared for this kind of eventuality. There are not enough training centres to help provide the much needed skills for the farmers and the youths of the state. The lackadaisical attitude of the state government has even deprived the farmers of the opportunity to have training centres at their door steps which is funded by the central government.

Farmers in Jaintia Hills were denied of their right to have Rural Self Employment Training Institutes (RSETI) at their respective districts because of the laid-back approach of both the concerned banks and the government. RSETI as they are commonly known which has been setup at different districts of the country have helped farmers immensely in their respective areas. But the farmers of these two districts have been deprived of this opportunity. Till date farmers from these two districts who wish to get training to improve their skills and enhance their incomes have to travel to either Umran or Mylliem to avail such trainings.

It is very unfortunate that each district is entitled to one RSETI so that farmers can avail training in the institutes close to their home, yet the opportunity was denied to the farmers in many districts in Meghalaya. How does RSETI work? Each institute in the district is to be managed by the bank with active cooperation from the Government of India and the state government. It is mandated that one RSETI is to be established in every district and the lead bank or any selected bank in the district is given the responsibility of creating and managing the RSETI in their respective districts.

The Government of India will provide a one-time assistance of up to a maximum of one crore rupees to the bank to meet the construction of building and infrastructure which will include classrooms, workshops, dormitories and other amenities. The financial support also includes administrative cost and the Institute needs to develop and organise 30-40 skill development programs in each financial year.

The main objective of establishing the RSETI is to provide training to the rural youths and the trainings are demand driven. The trainings are free of cost and the trainees would only have to pay their travel cost to and from the institute. RSETI are therefore dedicated institutions designed to provide skill training and skill upgradation of the rural youths of their respective districts. Durations of the training varies from short term duration of one week to six weeks. Trainings can be on Agriculture and allied activities, product programs, process program, repair work, beauticians, DTP, general skill development for women etc. Trainings can also be organised on other activities which may include construction, hospitality or any other avenues which solely depend on local requirements.

Another important support that the trainees will be able to have, is credit linkage for starting their own entrepreneurial ventures. Since the trainings are provided by the institute managed by the bank, they are also expected to provide credit support to the trainees. Certificates are also issued to the trainees after the completion of training. This is not only a credential or diploma of completing the training but more importantly it is one very vital document to help the trainees to avail loan from the banks. RSETI in different districts would have been of great help to MGNREGS by providing training to rural folks who have been provided sheds to rear animals or other livelihood activities in order to enhance their incomes.

The first RSETI in the state was set up at Umran Ri Bhoi District by the State Bank of India. The second RSETI in Meghalaya is in West Garo hills district. Recently the RSETI set up by Punjab National Bank at Mylliem East Khasi Hills has started provided training to farmers in the area. Unfortunately banks assigned to start RSETI in other districts have not taken the task seriously. In West Jaintia Hills the United Bank of India has been assigned the responsibility to set up the RSETI in the district. Regrettably the project has not even taken off till date. The Bank has been delaying the process and the Government is turning a blind eye to this very important issue.  With regards to another RSETI in the region, it is also not clear which bank is tasked with establishing RSETI in East Jaintia Hills district.

It is also very unfortunate that the banks are not willing to provide this little service to the area where they are doing their business. One also wonders what service the banks provide to the area when the CD ratio of banks in the region is within 35 percent compared to the national average which is over 60 percent. Besides, banks do not have to deduct from their profits to set up RSETI because the funds are provided by the central government.

One of the main objectives of setting the RSETI is also to mitigate unemployment problems in the rural areas. In fact the RSETI concept is based on RUDSETI (Rural Development and Self Employment Training Institute), a society which was established jointly by Syndicate Bank, Canara Bank and Sri Manjunatheswara Trust based at Ujire in Karnataka, but unfortunately this opportunity is being denied to the youths of the different districts of Meghalaya.

Another problem the farmers encountered during the pandemic is marketing their produce. When all of a sudden weekly markets that they used to rely on closed down, they had nowhere to go. But there is a saying that every misfortune offers a lesson for new learning. Perhaps the Government too should try to learn from the crisis and take the opportunity to break the market chain which has all along exploited the farmers. The Government needs to come up with new marketing strategies to help the farmers sell their produce at a much better price and these training can be provided at the existing RSETIs.

Setting RSETI in different districts is a missed opportunity but not lost. One hopes that the government will insist that the respective banks should start establishing these institutes which can also be used by different departments and even KVKs.

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