The Kudumbashree Story

Community Network

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 in the national context, over years of implementation of government programmes that required a community development approach, is a story worth telling. 

A timeline of some of the important Government of India programmes

2 October 1952

Government of India launches community development and extension programme for rehabilitating rural India.



Emergence of the concept of community development in government programmes

Sixth year after independence; the Republic of India was in its second year

Gandhian concerns over improving rural life and livelihoods formed the basis of the programmes; programme launched four years after Gandhiji’s assassination; on the second birth day of Gandhijiafter the country became a Republic.

The first five year plan (1951 to 1956) was just launched.


Government of India launches Urban Community Development (UCD) programme.



UCD was designed to function as a part of the local government and was viewed as a link between people and the municipal bodies.


Concept of ‘community development’ explicit in programme design

The programme was launched as a method for poverty alleviation and process for community development. Started in Delhi, spread to select towns and cities.

The period was during the second five year plan (1956 – 1961); Government of India’s emphasis was on development of the public sector.


Planning Commission decides to launch pilot projects on the lines of UCD through the Ministry of Health and Urban Development.


The programme suffered a setback in 1970 when the Government of India discontinued funding and left it entirely to the state governments and municipalities.

Context was the years that followed particularly tough periods during the Indo-China war of 1962, severe drought of 1965,  the war with Pakistan (1965-66), failure of the Third Five Year Plan 1961-1966) to achieve the growth targets; three years of declared Plan Holidays (1966-1969).


Government of India launches Environmental Improvement of Urban Slums (EIUS) for providing basic amenities and facilities in urban slums.


The programme focused on provision of drinking water, storm water drains, sewerage systems, community latrines and baths, improvement of pavements and roads, street lighting etc.


The community development approach continues

This was during the Fourth Five Year Plan (1969 to 1974) which saw the nationalisation of 14 major Indian banks, launch of the Green Revolution, and requirements on the war fronts cutting into the funds earmarked for industrial development. (Indo Pak war of 1971 and the series of events that led to the creation of Bangladesh)


Integrated Urban Development Programme (IUDP) launched. Special emphasis on health, education, and infrastructure development.

First year of the Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-1978). Government of India places renewed stress on employment, poverty alleviation, and justice.


Minimum Needs Programme (MNP) launched with an objective to establish a network of basic services and facilities.


These included minimum nutrition for slum dwellers.


Community development approach gains further momentum

Focus on poverty alleviation brings malnutrition and health into focus.


Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) launched on experimental basis. The objectives of the scheme were to improve the nutritional status of children below six years of age and to lay foundations for proper psychological, physical, and social development of the children.


ICDS was later extended to urban slums

Part of the Fifth Plan; focus on poverty.

1979 December

Integrated Development of Small and Medium Towns (IDSMT)


The objective was to slow down the migration to large cities by providing infrastructure and generating economic growth and employment in small medium towns.

Introduced just before the Sixth Five Year Plan (1980-1985); Launching of the Five Year Plan was delayed owing to political reasons.


UNICEF launches a Special Programme in agreement with Government of India. This included three different programmes: (1) Urban Community Development (UCD), (2) Low Cost Sanitation (LCS), and Small and Medium Town Development (SMTD).

Part of UNICEF’s ‘Master Plan of Operation’. UNICEF provided financial assistance to local governments of 42 medium towns to undertake the three different programmes.

Management and implementation of the schemes were solely by UNICEF.


Government of India launches Urban Basic Services (UBS) Programme.


UBS was formed by merging UCD, LCS, and SMTD.


Formation of Neighbourhood Groups

As part of the ‘Master Plan of Operations’ 1985-89 by the Government of India and UNICEF; this was based on an independent evaluation of the Special Programme by the Government of India.


Government of India revises the UBS Programme and renames it as Urban Basic Services for the Poor (UBSP).


CDS system develops

Towards the end of the Seventh Five Year Plan (1985-90); the Seventh Plan spoke about achieving the pre-requisites of self-sustaining growth by the year 2000.

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 withe 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-structiring of SGSY into National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in 2010.