Kudumbashree Community Network and PRIs
At present, relationship between the Kudumbashree Community Network and PRIs are through the following institutional systems.
- Ward member of Gram Panchayat or the ward Councillor of the Municipality or Municipal Corporation is the patron of Area Development Societies (ADS)
- Five women Ward Members of the Gram Panchayat or five women Councillors of the Municipality or Municipal Corporation are ex-officio members of the CDS General Body and Executive Committee.
- Member Secretary of the CDS is an official deputed by the local government. In the case of Gram Panchayats the Member Secretary is the Assistant Secretary of the Panchayat; in urban governments, Health Officer working as Project Officer of the UPA Cell of the Municipality or Municipal Corporation is the Member Secretary of the CDS.
- Welfare Standing Committee of the Gram Panchayat has a supportive and leadership role in all the economic and social empowerment programmes implemented by Kudumbashree as it is responsible for poverty eradication.
- There is an Evaluation Committee at the local government level chaired by the head of the local government; the CDS chairperson is the Member Secretary of the Evaluation Committee, the member secretary of the CDS is its convenor. The Secretary of the local government institution, chairpersons of Welfare and Development Standing Committees, all members of the Steering Committee of the local government, the women members/ Councillors nominated by the local government to the CDS, and all heads of departments and divisions under the local government are members of the Evaluation Committee.
During the early days of Kudumbashree, one day Mayors of the five city corporations walked into the office of the minister for local self-government. The Mayors told the Minister that the Kudumbashree CDSs were functioning as bodies parallel to the constitutionally elected committees of local government institutions. They demanded that the CDSs be brought under the control of the councils.
Paloli Mohammad Kutty, the then minister for local self-government spoke to the mayors in his characteristic patient style. He pointed out that the Kudumbashree community organisations were designed to work hand in hand with the local governments; and that they were not to be subordinated. He explained that the relationship between the community organisation and local government should be one of mutual respect. Community organisation would be accountable to the local government in cases where they used the local government’s funds.
Kudumbashree community network was visualised as an agency working closely with the PRIs. PRIs had a leadership role in the expansion of the Kudumbashree network too. However, as the comments by the former minister indicates, there had been problems in the relationship between the community network and the PRIs. CDS was subjugated to the Gram Panchayats; presidents of the Gram Panchayats would even chair CDS meetings. Nomination to the post of CDS chairperson kept the upper hand of the political dispensation ruling the local government intact in the relationship between the community network and the PRIs.
A Landmark Event: Introduction of Common Bylaws in 2008
The relationship between the Kudumbashree community network and local governments as we see them today has clearly been the result of the common bylaws and the subsequent elections to the CDS introduced in 2008. Introduction of the bylaws led to the elimination of many gray areas in the relationship between the two entities. The churning that happened following the decision to have elected leadership for CDS led to a re-organisation of forces and eventually to institutionalised relationship between the community network and the local governments.
The new initiative addressed a few critical problems at the interface between the CDS and the PRIs.
First of all, there were problems relating to the lack of a uniform set of bylaws across local governments. The bylaws that were in existence in many places were in fact contrary to the very spirit of Kudumbashree as a women's agency. For instance, there were bylaws that bestowed the powers to dissolve a CDS up on the secretary of the Gram Panchayat or the Charge Officer. There were bylaws that offered the CDS committee a permanent nature. Bylaws were mostly unclear on the roles of sub committees and their members. There were bylaws without any clause on punitive actions in case of financial irregularities; there were bylaws that did not have any mention on audit at all.
Second, there was a problem with the very design of ADS. The number of members at the CDS coming up from the ADS level was restricted to nine. This meant that all ADS could not be represented at the CDS. There was also no one-to-one correspondence between a ward and ADS.
Third, may bylaws lacked any provision of reservation for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe members in the committees.
It had been pointed out that the very name 'Charge Officer' had a connotation of a powerful position above that of the members of the CDS (even though the early documents of Kudumbashree did mention 'Member Secretary' as an alternative and interchangeable term to 'Charge Officer". The nomination system gave local governments powers to dictate terms to the CDS of the day.
With the introduction of the common bylaws and elections in 2008, the relationship between CDS and PRI entered a new era.
Uniform bylaws were formulated and introduced through a campaign programme that facilitated organisational learning across the community network. Bylaws were made uniform for rural and urban community networks. Representation was ensured at every level; the system of nine-member committee was done away with in the case of CDS. All ADS were to get representation in CDS. Provisions were made for reservation of Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) members in the committees.
Membership conditions were redefined to make Kudumbashree a network of all the women who aspire to be its members. Roles of sub committees and members were defined. Accounting guidelines and audit processes were put in place. 'Member Secretary' replaced 'Charge Officer'. Bylaws also made provisions for enabling CDS to function as micro finance institutions and to work in collaboration with cooperative institutions. The bylaws allowed CDS to buy shares of cooperatives.
With clear norms for elections prescribed in the bylaws, CDS started evolving into an agency independent of the local government.
The new bylaws that came into force on 8th August 2008 was prepared by a sub committee appointed for the purpose by the Kudumbashree Governing Body. The committee members were the following.
- Dr T.N. Seema
- Ms Baby Balakrishnan, President, Kanhangad Block Panchayat
- Prof R. Bindu, Mayor, Corporation of Thrissur
- Ms Beena Sunny, President, Puzhakkattiry Grama Panchayat and Vice President, Gram Panchayat Association
- Adv Suresh Babu, Chairman, Punalur Municipality
"What elections did was breaking the selection process of CDS from the local government institutionally. With elections, nominees were replaced by leaders. Women started feeling more responsible; and also proud of their position. They wanted to perform better as they realised that they were no more the nominees of the political leaders but the elected leaders of women in that CDS".
"The whole process led to a revamping of the community network. Sub committees became active. Convenors became responsible. The campaign for disseminating the bylaws turned out to be a massive educational programme. Women used to say 'we sat together, read and understood the bylaws'. This invariably enhanced the ownership of Kudumbashree among members".
- Sarada Muraleedharan, former Executive Director, Kudumbashree.