In 1997, a special Task Force consisting of S.M. Vijayanand, Secretary, Local Self Government Department, 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 (SFC) and State Election Commission (SEC) were constituted. Elections were held to the three-tier Panchayats and urban local governments in September 1995.
A Government Order dated 2nd October 1995 was a first step towards devolving functions and functionaries to Gram Panchayats. The Government Order, 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 government announced the devolution of a third of the State’s annual Plan Funds to the local governments. The government also launched the People’s Plan Campaign for formulating the Ninth Five Year 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 three member Task Force. 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.
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 (LSGD); 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 Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY) and National Slum Development Programme (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.
In hindsight, the extent to which the Task Force went on specifying certain critical aspects of the very design of the programme and its relationship with the local governments has been quite farsighted. Attempts by the emerging local governments to keep the community structure as subservient to them was pre-empted at the setting up stage itself. What the Task Force recommended was clearly a healthy co-existence between the local governments and the community network.
At the same time, the Task Force did not recommend a structure for the community organisation above the local government level. The higher levels structures and the District CDS which was part of the Malappuram model was not included here. The Task Force was also clear that there was no need for a State level body for the community structure. These still remain some of the critical aspects of the Kudumbashree design.
The Task Force recommended the adoption of the Nine Point Indices developed by the Alappuzha CDS experiment for identifying poor families, customised to account for necessary changes for a State-wide programme. The rationale for the indices was the need for an objective way to identify the poor, which the Task Force considered a prerequisite to eradicate poverty. "The approach was to establish a socially acceptable construct of poverty", said S.M. Vijayanand, member of the Task Force.