History and Evolution

Kudumbashree means different things to different people. For some, it is the poverty eradication project of the State government of Kerala. Some others view it as an exclusive domain of women engaged in social work. Yet in some others, the term Kudumbashree evokes the image of the women in uniform who come to collect waste from their door steps.

For several people, Kudumbashree is like a blessing; a God-send. It appears as food to the hungry, as medicine to the sick, as a helping hand to the ailing. Sections of men also see Kudumbashree as an unwanted platform that made women arrogant. There are politicians who think Kudumbashree as a channel to reach the poor; there are also politicians who see Kudumbashree as a hindrance to decision-making process. Certain others see it as a platform from where women enter politics.

The poverty eradication mission is called Kudumbashree. In a village setting, a NHG is called Kudumbashree. The CDS is called Kudumbashree. CDS chairperson is referred to as Kudumbashree chairperson. Women believe that it is Kudumbashree that supplies nutrimix to Anganawadis.

If all of these is Kudumbashree, then, what is its history? How did it evolve? What we are trying to understand is how Kudumbashree – the community network of women and the Mission that supports it – came into being. Tracing it would amount to placing it in context, and examining the experiments and experiences from which the idea called Kudumbashree evolved.

Evolution of the Kudumbashree Idea

Set in the context of the People’s Plan Movement which was a state strategy for mass mobilisation for bottom-up planning in the wake of the decentralisation of powers, Kudumbashree has been an outcome of its specific context.

From the perspective of a government programme, Kudumbashree was the extension of the CDS experiments in Alappuzha and Malappuram. At the same time, the CDS initiatives themselves had drawn lessons and strategies from the NABARD led initiative of SHG Bank Linkage Programme.

As an idea, its base has been neighbourhood groups (NHGs); the NHG idea had its own history within the State’s civil society domain.

The NHG idea stayed in contrast with the SHG concept that had been promoted in many countries as well as in several States of India. The NHGs here were to be forums for planning and development action too. The concept of such NHGs too has peculiar roots in Kerala’s development history. And the very concept of forming groups around neighbourhoods had been ingrained in traditional forms of community organisation in the state.

In sum, the Kudumbashree idea appears to have evolved through the community mobilisation experiments in Alappuzha and Malappuram, also drawing in from the various civil society initiatives in community mobilisation for different purposes. The Kerala CDS model, as recognised widely, evolved from the Alappuzha and Malappuram experiments. However, these initiatives themselves were informed by the experiences of certain traditional community organisations and practices.

As pointed out by Rajeev Sadanandan, who was the district collector at Malappuram during the experiment there, women in NHGs fixed 2% interest rate on the credit availed from the groups based on their experience in traditional organisations.

Eventually it was the decentralisation of powers to PRIs and the People’s Plan Campaign set the stage for Kudumbashree’s formation.


The Kerala CDS Model

The Kudumbashree community structure consisting of neighbourhood groups (NHGs), Area Development Societies (ADS), and Community Development Societies (CDS) emerged from a few pioneering programmes in community development in Kerala. The idea of Community Development Society (CDS) and its structure could be traced back to a Government of India programme supported by UNICEF initially called Urban Basic Services (UBS) and subsequently Urban Basic Services for the Poor (UBSP), implemented by the State of Kerala.

Kerala’s experiment in CDS system as part of the UBS/UBSP projects subsequently contributed to the design of other national level projects. CDS system gained acceptance as a method as well as a process at the national level. Simultaneously, experiments of similar nature in other states of India led to modifications in Kerala’s CDS system.

Therefore, the idea of Kerala’s CDS is an example of a national level programme implemented in a State, and the State modifying the concept and helping in framing up further policies based on the experience. In addition, it also provides examples of lessons from different areas and states contributing to improvements in a state’s project.

The evolution of the CDS idea, over years of implementation of government programmes that required a community development approach, is a story worth telling.

Evolution of the Kerala CDS model becomes clearer when viewed in this all India context. As can be seen from the timeline of rural development programmes given above, a community development approach was evident from the early years in development programmes. In 1980, Integrated Rural Development Programme was announced as a country-wide self-employment programme targeting the poor. The same year, National Rural Employment Programme (NREP) was launched. In the subsequent programmes that were more targeted or improved, the strategies of self-employment and wage employment continued. It was in the Urban Basic Services (UBS) Programme launched in 1985, that Group Approach was adopted as a strategy for the first time. Neighbourhood groups were visualised in the programme, and by 1986, fromation of groups were initiated.

Meanwhile, MYRADA, one of the pioneering voluntary organisations in rural credit and institution building had started promoting Self-Help Groups (SHGs) of women from poor households. The women were encouraged to save and the SHGs used that savings to lend to its members. MYRADA subsequently linked the SHGs to a local bank; this helped the SHGs get bank loan for lending to its members. MYRADA worked with NABARD to replicate the SHG - Bank Linkage model through public sector and regional rural banks. The Reserve Bank of India facilitated the process through authorising banks to lend directly to SHGs.

The relaunching of IRDP as a reformed programme in 1999 called Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) marked a clear shift in the Government of India strategy for rural development. In SGSY, self employment through organising the poor into Self-Help Groups (SHGs) became the cornerstone of the strategy. But there was no further institution building beyond SHGs; such a model and its promotion happened only with the re-structuring of SGSY into National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in 2010.


The Alappuzha Model

Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) as an implementation strategy was present in the UBS Programme. Such a strategy was justified given the design of the programme, which was based on seven principles.

The community organisation plan for UBS

NHG 15 to 20 households A Resident Community Volunteer (RCV) trained in community work, health and childcare represented each NHG. NHG to prepare a priority list of needs identified through a dialogue within the 15-20 households and present it to the project implementers. Process to be handled by the RCV under the guidance of Community organiser, a municipal functionary.
Basti Development Committee 15 to 20 NHGs The priority lists are discussed with municipal staff Neighbourhood Development Plans (Mini Plans) prepared
No forum at town level All the Mini Plans together form the Town Plan These town plans were more of ‘catalogues of needs’ than real plans



UBSP was more of an extension of the UBS Programme to cover the urban poor living in poor urban neighbourhoods outside the slums too. In spite of the attempts in community structures and bottom-up planning, UBS and UBSP remained top-down bureaucratically controlled programmes.

It was the Revised Guidelines of UBSP, formulated in the context of the greater push that UBSP warranted with the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act that gave a better design and clearer roles to the community structure.

The community organisation stipulated by the revised guidelines included

  • ► Neighbourhood groups (NHGs)
  • ► Neighbourhood Committees (NHCs); and
  • ► Community Development Societies (CDSs)


Guidelines proposed registration of CDSs under Charitable Societies Act or any other appropriate legislation to facilitate sourcing of grants and loans from other agencies and handling them autonomously. The guidelines proposed Community Organisers to be full time functionaries, thus placing emphasis on the community development aspect of the programme.

Urban Poverty Alleviation (UPA) Cell was proposed by these revised guidelines. The UPA Cell was to coordinate urban poverty alleviation schemes such as UBSP, Nehru Rozgar Yojana, EIUS, Low Cost Sanitation, and other schemes for the urban poor.

The community organisation that had emerged from these programmes, effective only to a limited extent till then failing to ensure community participation in plan preparations under UBSP, gained unprecedented strength and legitimacy through another UNICEF supported project in Alappuzha.

The Alappuzha CBNP

The project that made the difference was Community Based Nutrition Programme (CBNP) that the UNICEF initiated in Alappuzha in August 1991. Through a survey conducted for the impact assessment of the UBS programme during 1987-1992, a list of nine factors were prepared for identification of poor families. Any family with four of these nine factors was considered poor. The intention was to develop a simple measure that would enable local community members and volunteers identify the multiple factors that caused malnutrition and consequent morbidity and mortality.

The Nine Factors

  1. Scheduled caste and tribes
  2. Only one or none of adult family members being employed
  3. Kutcha or thatched house
  4. Lack of household sanitary latrines
  5. Non availability of drinking water
  6. Families having two meals or less per day
  7. Regular use of alcohol by a family member
  8. Family having at least one illiterate member
  9. Family having at least one child below five years


CDS as Legal Entity

While the list of nine factors made it possible for the communities to identify the poor families without external help, thus ensuring community participation, the three tier community system was strengthened and developed through organising the poor households. Project officers of CBNP, Community Organisers, ICDS Supervisors, anganwadi Workers, and volunteers contributed to this process of firming up the community organisation.

Statutory recognition added to the legitimacy of the system. In 1993, the State government approved the model byelaw for Community Development Society developed by the State UBSP Cell jointly with Alappuzha UBSP Cell. On 6th February 1993, Alappuzha Community Development Society came into existence. A three-tier CDS system evolved through the process.

CDS and the Municipality

Linkages of the three tier community organisation with the municipality were to be through two platforms.

  • ►Ward level advisory committees, with municipal councillor of the ward as chairperson and ADS chairperson as convenor. Resident Community Volunteers (RCVs) of the ward, anganwadi workers, junior health inspectors, and a few eminent persons nominated by the committee were members.
  • ►Town level advisory committees, with municipal chairperson as chairperson and municipal secretary as convenor. Members included CDS president, vice president, municipal engineer, chairpersons of all standing committees, all women councillors, all heads of departments at the town level, and bank representatives.

These committees, however, proved ineffective.

Thrift and Credit Societies

An innovative component of the CDS project was the introduction of thrift and credit societies (TCS) as an integral part of the community organisation. TCS was introduced in Alappuzha municipality in February 1994. TCSs were almost simultaneously organised in all the NHGs. Mobilising small savings of the poor women members and giving loans to them made TCSs informal banks of the poor.

NABARD’s timely intervention at this point provided the much needed impetus, stability, and legitimacy to the thrift and credit initiative. NABARD started with standardised accounts procedures and training programmes for the women functionaries associated with the thrift and credit programme.

This led to the NHGs being reorganised within along the lines of Self-Help Groups (SHGs); CDSs were linked to banks and micro finance was made an operational reality for the poor women of Alappuzha. This then started spreading to the other parts of the state.

NABARD’s intervention in the community organisation of Alappuzha and then the rest of the state, had an all India context to it.

SHG Bank Linkage Programme – The All India Context

Self-help groups (SHGs) as institutions of the poor had their origins in the community development projects of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the early 1980s. By 1987, SHG was already well accepted as an organisational form and an institutional mechanism for poverty alleviation strategies.

MYRADA, PRADAN, ASSEFFA, and DHAN Foundation were pioneer NGOs of India’s SHG movement. In their interventions,

  • A self-help group (SHG) consisted of 10-20 members drawn from a relatively homogeneous economic class (poor)
  • Members were self-selected on the basis of existing affinities and mutual trust
  • Groups met regularly at a fixed time and place and pool their savings into a common fund
  • Members in the groups took need based loans from this common fund
  • Groups developed their own rules and regulations
  • Groups also developed their own sanctions for violations
  • Meeting procedures and processes, norms for leadership, intensive training and handholding were designed to enable SHGs in a participatory democratic manner


Early successes of the SHGs enabled the pioneer ‘SHG-promoting NGOs’ to explore the possibility of lending to SHGs by formal financial institutions. The NGOs opened this channel through NABARD, seeking ways for SHGs - in spite of their informal status - to avail formal loans.

In 1992, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) took the decision to enable commercial banks to lend to SHGs. NABARD passed the required guidelines and this opened the pathway for commercial banks to lend to informal SHGs without collateral.

The SHG Bank Linkage Programme, commonly known as the Indian Micro Finance Model, thus began in 1992. SHG programme soon started evolving into a national phenomenon.

This was the national context in which NABARD supported the CDS experiment in Kerala. In real experience, Kudumbashree did not get NABARD support at expected levels. On the other hand, NABARD kept supporting SHGs promoted by NGOs; the fact that the NABARD annual reports never recognised Kudumbashree NHGs is testimony its antipathy to Kudumbashree.


The Malappuram CDS Model

The Alappuzha CDS model was essentially a town based one. The Malappuram CDS model applied the same strategy for community organisation for the Community Based Nutrition Project (CBNP) and the Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP). A common feature with Alappuzha was UNICEF support; the project started functioning in Malappuram district from September 1994. Replication or application of the Alappuzha model posed a challenge as the Malappuram project covered both urban and rural areas; and within rural, the project had to cover some of the most backward areas of the state.

The Malappuram projects had ‘involving the community in the developmental activities to the point that they themselves took the initiative’ as one of the objectives. It also wanted to ‘build the necessary flexibility in the schemes to respect the perceptions and priorities of the community’. Another objective was stated as ‘sensitising front line workers and other government officials across the sectors to the needs and aspirations of the community.

Clearly, the promoters of the project had built in the community development angle into the project and had selected the CDS route for its implementation.

The Government of Kerala and UNICEF, while deciding to extend the town based model of Alappuzha CDS to the rural areas of Malappuram did not attempt a mere replication of the model.

The Malappuram model had the following distinct features

  • ►A five tier structure
  • ——►1.NHGs
  • ——►2.ADS at ward level
  • ——►3.CDS at local government level
  • ——►4.Block level CDS
  • ——►5.District level CDS
  • ►Pronounced role of a promoter
    • ——►The district level CDS, a registered charitable society
  • ►A common platform of people and bureaucracy
    • ——►District collector was the head of the district CDS

The community mobilisation processes were characterised by the following factors

  • ►Large number of dedicated volunteers from the Total Literacy Mission of the Government of Kerala took key role in community mobilisation and building up of community organisation
  • ►UNICEF played a catalytic role, similar to the one in Alappuzha
  • ►Continuous support by NABARD
  • ►A massive training programme developed and supported by the UNICEF and the UPA Cell, and implemented with support from the Loyola Extension Service, Government of Kerala’s Health Department, and NABARD.

The NHG volunteers along with three functionaries – Associate Panchayat Coordinator and two Community Organisers per panchayat – constituted the mainstay of the Malappuram CDS structure.


The CDS Model Spreads

Certain important landmarks in the evolution of the CDS system at a larger scale, beyond Kerala have been the following.


  • Prime Minister’s Integrated Urban Poverty Eradication Programme (PM UPEP)
  • Leads to the extension of the CDS Model to 345 Class II Towns in the country; Nine towns in Kerala were selected under the programme.


  • Swarna Jayanti ShahariRozgarYojana (SJSRY) announced in the 50th year of independence.
  • As a unified urban poverty eradication programme replacing NRY, UBSP, and PM UPEP, SJSRY’s emphasis was on self-employment and wage employment for urban poor.
  • Scheme incorporated some of the important aspects of the CDS system.
  • Urban poor identified on the basis of the non-economic criteria followed in the Kerala CDS model; the criteria were used after rationalisation.
  • CDS made nodal agency for implementation of SJSRY

The references to the CDS Model and process in the guidelines of SJSRY showed the increasing recognition that the model had gained in delivering programmes for the improvement of the quality of life of the poor and in empowering women.


The five tier structure of the Malappuram CDS had raised doubts about its sustainability. The block CDS was seen by many as redundant in the structure. The district CDS was functioning more like an NGO promoting and supporting SHGs. Eventually, the community organisation in Malappuram got rationalised into a three tier structure. The advisory committees at the ADS and CDS levels did not work in many places, and slowly became defunct.

The thrift and credit societies (TCS) within the CDS system emerged as a mainstay of the system in several places. While RBI’s guidelines on commercial bank lending to informal SHGs helped in establishing bank linkages, NABARD’s experience since 1986 in working initially with the credit management groups of MYRADA, and later with the SHGs helped NABARD in taking a more supportive role, especially in training support, in both Alappuzha and Malappuram.

Urban Poverty Alleviation Fund Scheme 1994

After the decision to extend the CDS project to cover all the 94 Gram Panchayats and five Municipalities in the district, the next big leap for the CDS concept was the Urban Poverty Alleviation Fund Scheme of 1994. The Government of Kerala set up a State Urban Poverty Alleviation (UPA) Project Cell for the implementation of the scheme by extending the CDS project to all the urban local governments of the State. The State Government earmarked funds for the programme under Section 284 of Kerala Municipalities Act; UPA fund was earmarked in every municipality for the scheme.

Every municipality had to form a municipal level UPA Cell and set aside two percent of the estimated annual revenue for the UPA scheme. UPA Fund was designated as the point of convergence for all the funds that the municipalities received under the centrally sponsored schemes such as Environmental Improvement of Urban Slums (EIUS), Nehru Rozgar Yojana (NRY), Low Cost Sanitation (LCS) programme etc; all the funds under other urban poverty alleviation schemes of the central and state governments were also credited to the UPA Fund.

Project Officer of UPA scheme was designated as the member secretary of the CDS. Activities of the UPA Cells were coordinated by the State level UPA Project Cell.

On formation of Kudumbashree Mission, the State UPA Cell was merged with the mission. It was with the government order approving the new byelaw for the CDS system under Kudumbashree in 2008 that the current CDS system fell in place.

Civil Society Models

Ayalkoottam Movement in Alappuzha

‘Neighbourhood’ Group is a literal translation of Ayalkoottam in Malayalam, Kerala’s local language. There was an experiment by the same name in Alappuzha in the 1970s. Initiated by a Gandhian community worker D Pankajaksha Kurup, the experiment took place in Kanjippadam village near Ambalappuzha in Alappuzha district.

The experiment was pivoted on the concept of voluntary sharing of resources by villagers. This was evident from the very slogan of the movement, which was ‘Undallo; Kondupokam’, a rough translation of which would mean ‘There is enough; Take it’.

  • ►Around 15 households in a neighbourhood formed an Ayalkoottam (Neighbourhood Group) or Tharakkoottam
  • ►Several Ayalkoottams formed Gramakkoottam (Village Level Group)


Community taking ownership of its affairs at the local level was the key feature of the programme. The concept that was promoted was of a money-less economy, of a borderless world, of a self-governing society.

An Alternative in Neighbourhood Movement

Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) have been in existence in many countries; most of them being small territorial grouping that maintain social relationships and might have developed a common consciousness or identity. They were not conceived or designed to have any political or developmental function. In that case, Pankajaksha Kurup’s Kanjippadam model stood out as groupings formed out of a political and developmental vision, which was fundamentally Gandhian.

During early 1990s, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), the people’s science movement, through its collaboration with the Centre for Development Studies for the project called Panchayat Level Development Planning (PLDP), took a cue from the Kanjippadam model and experimented with it from a different perspective.

KSSP conceived neighbourhood groups as basic socio-political as well as developmental units of the society to enable:

  • ►Participatory and face to face democracy, enabling each citizen to participate in the day to day management of the society
  • ►A substantial reduction in the cost of management resulting from increased participation and consequent transparency
  • ►Increased political participation of the individual citizens in the choice of their representatives, easy recall of erring ones, and almost zero cost election from members of panchayats to members of parliament
  • ►Equal participation of women in all spheres


KSSP’s NHG pilots were tested in Kalliassery Grama Panchayat in Kannur district in 1993. Subsequently, as part of PLDP, NHGs were formed in Mayyil in Kannur, Onchium in Kozhikode, Madakkathara in Thrissur, Kumarakom in Kottayam, and Mezhuveli in Pathanamthitta district. The experience and learnings varied across these Gram Panchayats and the few others where NHGs were formed outside the purview of PLDP.

A total of 347 NHGs were formed in PLDP panchayats during 1997-2000. The KSSP mode neighbourhood groups were to work in tandem with Panchayat Development Societies. The community organisation did not have a structured design like the CDS system. The KSSP model’s strength was in NHGs participating in local level resource mapping and planning exercises systematically.

The Committee on Decentralisation of Powers headed by Dr S.B. Sen, appreciated the potential of NHGs and recommended it as useful informal structure in Panchayat Raj. This idea was incorporated into the Panchayat Raj Act (amended in 1999) as well as into the guidelines of the People’s Plan Campaign.

The NGO Stream

Compared to other states of India, growth and spread of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) had been limited in Kerala. Within this limited space, two distinct streams of NGOs had been working on various issues and with different communities.

Different congregations of Christian churches had been facilitating community development and had formed community groups. Subsequently many churches formed their own NGOs, mainly involved in charity related activities. These NGOs later diversified their portfolio into income generating activities and micro credit. In the all India context of NABARD promoted SHG Bank Linkage programme, several of these NGOs promoted SHGs and linked them with banks.

NGOs other than those promoted by religious groups had also been working in certain specific areas and with some of the vulnerable communities. Many of them worked with donor promoted schemes. Unlike other states, these NGOs did not work on a large scale in government programmes due to various reasons. However, many of them joined the SHG Bank Linkage band waggon and promoted SHG networks in significant scales.

The learnings from the experiences of these NGOs have also contributed to the Kudumbashree idea in some form or the other. Some of the SHG networks remained and worked in parallel and in competition to the Kudumbashree NHGs when they were promoted. Most of such networks, however, eventually became part of the Kudumbashree network.

Traditional Community Organisations

Even though the CDS system evolved from the Alappuzha and Malappuram models in the 1990s, the concept of neighbourhood groups has a history of its own in Kerala. This history can be deciphered in the various forms of social organisations that existed historically in the state. Most of these organisational forms were based on the principle of collective action for offering social support and help to the vulnerable sections of the society. While these had a neighbourhood orientation, and naturally so, many had different modes of saving and lending inbuilt into their design.

Some of the examples of such pioneering social organisations, which, perhaps contributed directly or otherwise to the evolution of the neighbourhood group based community organisation of the 1990s are listed below.

  • Kurikkalyanam or Tea Party of North Kerala
  • ►Sunday thrift schemes of Kumarakom
  • ►Rice based chit scheme of Southern Kerala
  • ►Paddy savings and lending scheme of Onattukara
  • ►Coconut based thrift and lending scheme of Alappuzha


Kurikkalyanam of North Kerala

These were tea parties organised by families to mobilise funds for certain events such as marriages. The family conducting the tea party would invite all the families in the neighbourhood to the party by sending letters and through public displays and announcements. The tea parties, or high tea, used to be called Kurikkalyanam, Theyilasalkaram (literally meaning Tea Party), or Payattu.

Every family invited for the event would participate and contribute some money; the fund thus generated would be used by the family for organising the event. This informal fund raising mechanism used to be a reliable system for many families for meeting the necessary expenses for organising events.

In some places, at the tea party itself lots used to be drawn to decide who would hold the next tea party. The lot was known as kuri in local parlance and the name of the event comes out of this system. In other places, the next event would be decided by the needs of the families.

Sunday Thrift Schemes of Kumarakom

This is the system where women from neighbouring households would meet every Sunday and do some financial transactions. Every woman would bring a certain amount, which would be pooled together by the ten or so members of the group. A needy member could seek and get a loan with the approval of the group; the loan amount limited to the total amount pooled on a given Sunday.

Once a woman gets a loan, she keeps bringing her saving, but would not be entitled to another loan till the cycle has been completed with every woman getting a chance to claim a loan.

The group would usually have a single woman acting as the coordinator, money keeper, and accountant; all informally. The close relationship that developed among the women of these groups used to be extremely helpful during tough times.

Rice Thrift Scheme of Southern Kerala

The systems involved women members bringing a small quantity of rice to weekly meetings. At the meeting, after regular discussions, the rice that each woman had brought would be pooled together. The needy woman in the group could take the rice home, with permission from the group. This worked as a kind of assurance against absolute poverty and hunger for the group of families involved.

The system could work only as a strictly neighbourhood mechanism. For one, each woman should be bringing the same, or at least similar type of rice; otherwise, once mixed the rice would become difficult to use. Then, the beauty of the system was in the fact that the needy family could access the week’s collection. In addition, these families in most cases also had the option of reporting to the group in case there was food shortage at home. In such cases, a ‘rice advance’ could be organised from other households.

Partner women in the groups used to be equals in all respects. However, in most of the cases, there would be one or two women (out of the group of ten or so) who would organise the activities of the group including fixing of meetings. Over the years, the affinity developed within the groups used to be helpful to the members in times of crisis.


The People's Plan Movement

The democratic decentralisation and the people’s plan campaign of the government of Kerala during the 1996-97 period marked a new approach to development planning in the State. The gender dimension that had been built into the planning process, along with the Women Component Plan contributed to the Kudumbashree idea.

Decentralisation of Powers

Democratic decentralisation as it happened in Kerala was not only about devolution; it sought to make people participate in day-to-day governance and development planning. Progress on three fronts had been widely recognised in regard to Kerala’s decentralisation programme.

  • ►Administrative decentralisation: local government institutions in both rural and urban areas were given new functions and powers of decision making, and officials of several line departments were brought under the authority of local governments.
  • ►Fiscal decentralisation: Almost 40% of the State’s annual plan budget was allocated directly to the local government institutions.
  • ►Decentralisation of political power: Elected representatives were given the autonomy to design, fund and implement a full range of development policies and projects; and people got the right to participate in the planning process through Gram Sabha.


In the process, Kerala’s decentralisation defied traditional logic, reversed the order of devolution, and launched a mass mobilisation drive to support the programme.

  1. Reversal of sequence of the decentralisation process; 35-40% of the State’s annual plan fund amounting to Rs 10,250 million was devolved to the local governments in the first year of decentralisation, followed by Rs 11,780 million in the second year. The total untied funds given to the local governments during the year before decentralisation was to the tune of Rs 200 million only.
  2. Planning as an instrument of social mobilisation; there was insistence on area plans for each local government, breaking the tradition of dividing the available resources equally between the elected members for their respective wards/ constituencies. People’s Plan Campaign was launched to empower the elected local governments by rallying the officials, experts, volunteers, and the mass of people around them, in order to facilitate local level planning addressing the real problems at the local level.
  3. Campaign for the creation of a new civic culture; the campaign sought to nurture a development culture that would promote grassroots democratic institutions; and worked towards creating a change in the attitude towards development process among the key players involved: elected representatives, officials, experts, and people.

An explicit aim of decentralisation was to give opportunity for as much direct participation of people in daily governance as possible. One of the major achievements of the People’s Plan Campaign had been the success in adapting the Gram Sabha to suit the specific conditions of the State and to make them effective vehicles of citizen participation in the decision making process.

This was where neighbourhood groups (NHGs) made a difference. Formation of NHGs of 40 to 50 families had been a spontaneous response from below to the limitations of Gram Sabha as a forum for discussions on development issues and planning in the State’s context. Though not required by the Act, NHGs were formed in 198 gram panchayats across the state. In around half of them, NHGs effectively functioned as grass roots forums for direct citizen participation in governance. A study undertaken of these 100 Gram Panchayats revealed that the NHGs were indeed carrying out the functions that supplemented the discussions and decisions at the Gram Sabha. NHGs engaged in

  • ►Discussion of the local plan
  • ►Review of plan implementation
  • ►Selection of beneficiaries
  • ►Review of general administration

It was also reported that many NHGs were involved in

  • ►Settlement of family disputes
  • ►Educational programmes for children
  • ►Health programmes
  • ►Cultural activities
  • ►Thrift schemes
  • ►Project implementation


NHGs in the process showed their ability to function as a supplement to the Gram Sabha; and not as substitute. NHG representatives often constituted a ward committee, which in most cases acted as an executive committee of the Gram Sabha. NHGs did help in improving the quality of Gram Sabha in their wards.




The Gender Dimension

Gender as a theme assumed particular significance in the context of reserving one-third of the seats and offices in local self-government institutions for women.

In the development reports prepared by the local government institutions through the five-stage people’s planning process, a separate chapter on women’s issues was made mandatory. This made local governments across the state think and explore on the state of women and ways of improving their state.

Every project, across all sectors, whether aimed specifically at women or not, had to have a statement on the project’s gender implications. This was a step that became the beginning of instilling a new sensitivity in local level planning process.

When the local government level plan documents were finalised, the extent to which the concerns of women had been incorporated had to be mentioned. This might have been done mechanically by several local governments; however, the government’s intention was clear: gender concerns were cross cutting, and these were meant to be kept alive across the planning process

Women Component Plan (WCP)

One of the remarkable features of Kerala’s decentralisation and the people’s plan process was the introduction of a women component plan (WCP) as an integral part of local government level development plans both urban and rural.

The State government made it mandatory for local government institutions to earmark 10% of their annual plan funds exclusively for women’s projects from the second year of the Ninth Plan onwards.

Special guidelines were issued for the formulation and implementation of Women Component Plan (WCP). For discussing women and gender related issues, a subject group of ‘women and development’ was made mandatory. In these group meetings women were given opportunity to discuss the problems facing them and make suggestions for solutions to the problems identified.

The Government had asked the local government bodies to allocate 10% of the annual plan funds for WCP; however, it was found that the actual allocations in the first year fell far short of 10%. Projects under WCP left much to be desired; in many local governments general sector projects were packaged as WCP projects.

During the subsequent years, the suggestion to set apart 10% of the plan fund for WCP was made mandatory. The local governments were asked to hike the allocation to WCP beyond 10% in case of shortfall in the preceding years.

Many of the elected women representatives were better educated than men. However, most of them were young, lacked experience, and on several instances forced into the electoral fray for various reasons. A majority of them were not equipped with knowledge of rules, regulations, and administrative matters.

The Plan Campaign addressed these limitations by designing and administering a large number of capacity building programmes for women.

Training programmes were also conducted focusing on WCP; five volumes of training materials were prepared for this.

  1. Handbook on Women and Development
  2. People’s Planning and Women Empowerment
  3. Equality in Development
  4. Status of Women Studies
  5. People’s Planning; Advancement of Women


Many of the weaknesses of WCP were overcome during the second year.

  • ►More than the statutory minimum requirement of 10% of the plan grant-in-aid was earmarked for WCP in all the districts
  • ►Realistic project financing strategies were adopted; the over emphasis on beneficiary contribution and loan in women development projects was done away with
  • ►There was clear improvement in the quality of projects. There was decline in the tendency to include general sector projects in WCP (This was a problem in the first year; general sector projects were included as WCP on the basis of notional and even questionable benefits to women. An example would be counting half the cost of a road project in WCP on the pretext that women would be half the users)
  • ►New forms of development oriented women organisations such as NHGs began to emerge in more and more areas. 


In short, the People’s Planning Campaign had the following components inbuilt into its overall strategy and content.

  • ►Encouraging and mentoring women leaders at the local government level through series of training programmes and programmes aimed at critiquing the status of women
  • ►Making NHGs the supplementary forums of Gram Sabhas
  • ►Emphasising on continuous improvement of planning process and development programmes to ensure gender equality
  • ►In ensuring due space for women’s agency in local governance and in firming up development projects




The Mission Setting Up

In 1997, a special task force consisting of S.M. Vijayanand, Secretary responsible for the State Urban Poverty Alleviation (UPA) Project Cell, T.M. Thomas Isaac, Member, State Planning Board, and Dr Prakash Bakshi of NABARD recommended the setting up of a State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM). The purpose of the proposed mission was to eradicate absolute poverty from the state over a period of ten years.

The three member task force was to examine the feasibility of a state-level mission for poverty eradication in the context of the people’s plan campaign. This was in 1997; the people’s plan campaign was launched in 1996.

Following the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments, the government of Kerala had passed new Acts for panchayats and urban local governments in 1994. The government further approved the Rules for the implementation of the two Acts. State Finance Commission and State Election Commission were also constituted. Elections were held to the three-tier panchayats and urban local governments in September 1995.

On 2nd October 1995, a government order was issued devolving functions and functionaries to gram panchayats. The Government Order of 2nd October, however, was silent on devolution of functions and functionaries to block and district panchayats.

The new government took over the State administration following the assembly elections in May 1996. The new government announced the devolution of a third of the State’s plan funds to the local governments. The government also launched the People’s Plan Campaign for formulating the Ninth Plan from below.

The massive devolution of funds to the local governments and the campaign for formulation of the Ninth Plan from below added substantial impetus to the process of decentralisation. These initiatives also put Kerala in the lead role in the country in terms of devolution of functions, functionaries, and funds.

The state government approved the recommendations of the report and the formation of the State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM) was announced in the state budget of 1997-98. The Prime Minister inaugurated the mission at Malappuram on 17th May 1998. Shri. E.K.Nayanar was the Chief Minister of Kerala and Shri. Paloli Mohammed Kutty was the Minister of Local Administration, then.

SPEM was registered under the Travancore-Cochin Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Act of 1955 in November 1998. SPEM started functioning on 1st April 1999 under the local self-government department; it was named Kudumbashree mission.

The State UPA Project Cell was merged with Kudumbashree mission and all the poverty alleviation programmes, both centrally sponsored and state-supported, were entrusted with the mission. With the Government of India declaring Kudumbashree as ‘State Urban Development Agency’ (SUDA), programmes such as SJSRY and NSDP fell under the purview of the Mission.

The three member task force that recommended the setting up of Kudumbashree mission, had also laid down certain cardinal principles relating to the formation and functioning of the proposed community based organisation in the context of PRIs and urban local governments emerging as major players in the State’s development.

  • ►The community organisation would have a three tier structure with neighbourhood groups, area development societies, and community development societies.
  • ►Local governments and community organisations were to work together on equal terms; one was not to be subordinate to the other.
  • ►CDS was not to be an appendage of the local governments; instead local governments were to respect their autonomy.
  • ►CDS should respect local governments as institutions of local government.
  • ►Information was to be freely shared between the local governments and the community network.
  • ►CDS was to be accountable to local governments for the local government funds that they used.




Kudumbashree Through Years

Date Events Remarks
17th May 1998 Thrift management, internal lending, grading, bank linkage

Alappuzha Municipality had CDS system by 1994.

In 1994, CDS system was formed in 94 Gram Panchayats and five Municipalities in Malappuram district.

In 1995, the CDS network was extended to cover all the 58 Municipalities in the state.

November 1998 State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM -Kudumbashree Mission) registered under the Travancore-Cochin Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Act 1955 Kudumbashree Mission becomes a legal entity with a Governing Body, Executive Committee, and staff.
September 1999 State Urban Poverty Alleviation (UPA) Cell wound up; SPEM declared State Urban Development Agency (SUDA) Mission becomes the nodal agency for urban poverty alleviation projects.
August 2000 CDS system extended to 262 Gram Panchayats The 262 Gram Panchayats were selected based on their performance in the People’s Plan campaign.
December 2001 CDS system further expanded to cover 338 more Gram Panchayats Revised Guidelines were issued.
March 2002

CDS system launched in 291 more Gram Panchayats


CDS system extended to cover the entire state

Coverage becomes total for the State.

July 2007

State government issues orders integrating SHGs under SGSY with Kudumbashree

End of dual membership of poor families in SGSY SHGs and Kudumbashree NHGs.

Standardised CDS bye-laws

Election guidelines issued

Common bye-laws for Kudumbashree CDS.

Elections to the leadership in community organisation; election through consensus at respective general body meetings.


Elections Phase II

Second phase elections held in community organisation.


Modified election guidelines

Secret ballot system replaces election through consensus at the respective general body meetings of the community organisation.