A below poverty line resident of Bakha village near here, Chanchla Devi has earned respect in her family and neighborhood by becoming a member of a self-help group and earning a good amount of money preparing “ladoos” that are supplied to the Vaishnodevi shrine to be distributed as “Prasad” to the pilgrims.

Several other poverty-stricken women in the villages on the foothills of the shrine have formed self-help groups to prepare “Prasad”, thread-bracelets and other items that are being supplied to the Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) that is headed by Governor NN Vohra. More than 80 lakh pilgrims visit the shrine every year.

Vohra has been giving importance to the social support initiative of the SMVDSB under which Rs 13.63 crore has been paid to the seven self-help groups and also the J&K State Women’s Corporation. Several other institutions have been opened in the area for welfare of the people.

This has helped the village women lead a dignified life. These products were earlier brought from outside the state and sold by individual shopkeepers while women of the area sat idle in their homes. However, the SMVDSB worked out the idea of launching the social support initiative to involve local women in the work and bring economic prosperity to the area.

Chanchla Devi said during the lean season her self-help group daily prepares about 200 boxes containing four ladoos, but the number of boxes increases to about 800 during the Navratras when there is a huge rush of pilgrims. A few other groups also work hard to keep the supply of Prasad going to the shrine.

According to an official of the SMVDSB, the first self-help group, Vaishnavi Mahila Dal with 26 members, was formed in 2005 and till October 2017 it has been paid Rs 3.64 crore for the products supplied by it. The economic condition  of the women who were earlier sitting idle in their homes has as a result been transformed.

The Nav Durga Sewa Dal in Bagatha village that was formed in 2008 to prepare ladoos has been paid Rs 2.35 crore till 31 October this year.

Likewise, the SMVDSB paid Rs 6.73 crore since 2008 to the four self-help groups that prepared and supplied thread-bracelets to be tied on the wrists of pilgrims. These self-help groups had 342 women working for them.

The bracelet manufacturing unit set up by the erstwhile Baridars of the Shrine in 2010 was the highest earner of Rs 2.78 crore in this category till October this year.

The J&K government-owned State Women’s Corporation is also making a fortune out of the supply of jute carrybags to the SMVDSB from which it earned Rs 88.78 lakh during the past seven years. The Prasad is packed in these jute bags for the pilgrims. The Krishna Jyoti Social Welfare Society, which was in June last year approved for supplying 5000 jute carrybags per month, has earned a sum of Rs 2.40 lakh from the SMVDSB.

There is scope for setting up more self-help groups in the villages of the area as the products manufactured by the existing ones are far less than the required quantity. Private individuals who have set up shops at Katra and the route to the shrine were doing good business by bringing these products and souvenirs from outside the state.