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Can The Newly Minted Ministry Of Cooperation Boost The Indian Economy?

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When in the second week of July, the Cabinet Secretariat announced the creation of the Ministry of Cooperation, a thought arose whether the announcement date was planned or not as the first Saturday of July is celebrated as International Cooperative Day. If it was planned, maybe India wants to revisit its history and if it was not, it is time to look back. For it was India that played an important role in conceptualizing the modern Cooperative movement.

The Ministry Of Cooperation will be led by Amit Shah.

India’s History With The Cooperative Movement

Delegates from India attended the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), which came up in August 1895, during the first Cooperative Congress in London. It was here that cooperative principles were defined to develop trade. Amongst the very few international organizations to have survived both the world wars, the ICA was granted the consultative status with the United Nations in the year 1946.

The alliance, which set the principles for the cooperative system, relied much on the Rochdale principle designed by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in an attempt to resolve the problem of the cooperative system. With the said principles in mind, the cooperative system expanded to include credit, consumer products, capital products, and the Mondragon Corporation, based in Basque started by Fr. Jose Maria Madariaga in 1956 along with his students still stands today as a successful cooperative. It is also the seventh-largest company in terms of asset turnover in Spain.

In India, the cooperative system arose as a result of rural distress. The often-occurring peasant uprising, the most important being the Deccan Riots of 1879, led the British government to appoint a committee under E.D Maclagan in 1915 which led to the establishment of cooperative banks in India. These banks were based on the idea of cooperatives, which the crown started to encourage particularly with the enactment of the Cooperative Credit Societies Act, 1904 and the Cooperative Societies Act, 1912.

These cooperatives, however, never worked in India for as per the testimony recorded by a witness before the Royal Commission on Agriculture 1928, outcaste people never got credit from the cooperative society until he agreed to give his labor at a low rate to the people running the society. Further, it is recorded that people who ran the cooperative society sat on one side of the road and the other people on the other side of the road.

Cooperatives have played a major role in strengthening the rural economy.

Independent India gave impetus to the cooperative sector, for the founding fathers understood the role cooperatives could play in development. As of 1951, there were a total of 181,000 cooperatives in the country with a total membership of 15.5 million. It was this vision that led to the establishment of the National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC) by the parliament in the year 1963. NCDC was tasked with the planning, promotion, and providing financial assistance to the cooperative in different sectors. Along with this Institutions like the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was already looking into the expansion and strengthening of credit cooperatives.

Challenges Faced Post-Independence

The problem, which arose from this, was that several institutions were working under the various heads, like NCDC was under the Ministry of Agriculture, (later renamed as Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare in August 2015) and NABARD under the Ministry of Finance. There was no sync and the cooperative sector lay without a common policy and agenda. There is no questioning to the fact that the number and the strength of the cooperative societies grew under State planning.

Data from the National Cooperative Union of India (NCUI) for the year 2007-08 shows that there were a total of 150,000 Primary Credit Societies with a total membership of 180 million, which was lower than the number of non-credit societies, standing at 260,000 with a total membership of 250 million. The 2004-05 data shows that the annual turnover of the non-credit societies stood at 700 billion INR.

Both the Union and State governments have given equal importance to cooperatives as a form of organization to strengthen the rural economy. It was, however, this excessive dependence on the state for financial, administrative, and logistical support, which also limited the scope of the cooperative in the country.

Entry 32 List II of schedule seven of the Indian Constitution entrusts the state governments with the power to incorporate, regulate, and wind up cooperation, other than those specified in the list I. Entry 43 and 44 List I of the Seventh Schedule intrusts the Union Government with incorporation, regulation, and winding up of the trading corporation, including banking, insurance, and financial cooperation and also of a corporation with objects not confined to one state. The Supreme Court of India based on the doctrine of severability noted that there is no overlap as far as cooperative societies are concerned, and the sole authority rests with the states, whereas, as far as multi-state cooperative societies are concerned, having objects not confined to a single state, the power rests exclusively with the parliament.

This Multi-State Cooperative Societies Act 2002, which rests with the department of agriculture, cooperation, and farmers’ welfare pay the way for the union government to act on the matter. As most of the big cooperative’s in India like the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd better known as AMUL, Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, better known as Lijjat Papad are working at a national level and International Level, the role of the Union Government has become imperative and a new Ministry of Cooperation would act as a catalyst in the growth and expansion of such cooperation in India.

Political And Administrative Hurdles For New Ministry

With all said and done, the newly born ministry faces serious political and administrative challenges ahead. The first serious challenge comes as to checking the politicization of the cooperatives and running the administration based on the norms of the market. It is here that the Ministry can fall back again on the Rochdale Principles. The cooperative must be functioning based on an open and voluntary basis, this is a parameter, which will lead to inclusivity and promote social harmony.

Cooperative must function on the ground as a democratic institution with every member having equal say in the policies and decision-making process. This will in turn strengthen the local institutions and lead to participatory governance. Members must contribute equally and have control over the capital of their cooperative.

The Ministry must regulate the sector, but at the same time must ensure that it does not intrude into the autonomy of the cooperative, both the state and union laws must ensure that autonomy of governance for the cooperative is registered within their jurisdiction. The Ministry must facilitate a proper training program for the members of the cooperative, and its employees. Timely information dissemination would only enhance the functioning of the cooperatives.

The Ministry is surely a step in the right direction, but it is still the very first step. The development of the cooperative sector would depend on the policies, which are floated in the days to come, and that is what will make the difference.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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