Japan Agency Provides Helping Hand For Artisans in Ajanta, Ellora

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), a development-lending agency of the Japanese government, will launch a pilot microcredit programme, targeting communities near the centuries-old cave frescoes at Ajanta and Ellora.

The programme will be launched by the end of 2007, said bank representatives. Japan has a sizeable population of Buddhists, and JBIC has previously financed tourism-related projects of importance to Buddhists in Ajanta and Ellora, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Vineet Sarin, senior regional specialist at JBIC’s India office, said the microcredit programme would focus on assisting artisans by funding training and marketing efforts. He declined details on the size of the programme.

“The idea is not only to develop the tourism infrastructure (in the area), but also have a tangible impact on the socio-economic status of the people in and around that area,” he said, explaining why the bank is interested in the project as part of its broader funding of the development of Ajanta and Ellora, the site of Buddhist and Hindu paintings more than 1,000 years old, as a tourist destination.

SKS Microfinance Pvt. Ltd’s chief executive officer, Vikram Akula, expressed concern over the scope of the project. However, he said that “any infusion of microfinance, even if it’s not on a scalable form… is always a welcome thing. It’s just a question of how the project would be designed.”

The microcredit project will be part of the second of two projects that JBIC has funded at Ajanta and Ellora since 1992.

Through 2011, the bank expects to lend about Rs450 crore to various agencies of the Indian government for the World Heritage Site and its surrounding environs.

Its projects have funded conservation efforts at the caves; improvements to nearby Aurangabad’s airport; improvements in roads, water and power supply; the establishment of roadside rest stops; and the marketing of Ajanta and Ellora.

In total, the bank said it has committed about Rs97,000 crore to development in India since 1958, including (approximately) Rs1,200 crore for the tourism sector alone.

The lending agency will fund the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corp. (MTDC) through the central government to establish the microcredit programme. The bank hopes that the microcredit project will eventually be self-sustaining. JBIC expects MTDC to maintain and expand the programme over time, said Sarin. MTDC declined to comment.