The Kudumbashree Story

Women Empowerment

Decentralisation and Peoples’ Plan Campaign – Setting the Context

Kudumbashree was born in the context of decentralisation of powers to Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI) and a State-wide campaign to formulate the Ninth Five Year Plan from below. While decentralisation meant transfer of substantial funds to PRIs and deployment of functionaries, the State-wide campaign popularly known as the People’s Plan Campaign (PPC) tried to mobilise people at an unprecedented scale to formulate development plans locally.

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 set up. Elections were held to the three-tier panchayats and urban local governments in September 1995.

On 18th September 1995, a government order was issued devolving functions to Gram Panchayats. This government order came into effect from the next Gandhi Jayanti Day - 2nd October 1995. A 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 annual plan funds to the local governments. The government also launched the People’s Plan Campaign (PPC) for formulating the Ninth Plan from below.

It was in this context that the State government announced the formation of the State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM) in the State budget of 1997-98. Shri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India launched Kudumbashree at Malappuram on 17th May 1998.

Even though the Kudumbashree idea had emerged out of a series of events and experiences, it was the concrete context of decentralisation and the People’s Plan Campaign that placed it firmly within the framework of PRIs and bestowed upon it specific roles in the new development approach.

PRIs as they exist today in Kerala and the Kudumbashree community organisation in fact developed almost concurrently.

After the passing of the Panchayat Raj Act and the Municipalities Act in 1994 and the devolution of functions to Panchayats in 1995, the next Panchayat elections were held in 1995. The new government that took over the State administration in 1996 announced the devolution of funds and took steps to deploy functionaries to the local government institutions. The government also announced the Peoples’ Plan Campaign, the mass mobilisation programme to draw up the Ninth Plan from below.

Therefore, 1996-99 was a period of significant churning that led to the evolution of local government institutions in Kerala as they exist today. Kudumbashree was born in the midst of these events. Kudumbashree started gaining its ground and establishing itself as an important and unique agency with evolving roles at the local government level during this period.

One of the outstanding contributions of the Peoples’ Plan Campaign had been the placement of gender dimension as a key theme in development planning. The State Planning Board conducted special training programmes for PRIs on addressing women’s issues. The early training manuals that the State Planning Board had prepared for decentralised planning had separate chapters on women and development.

The State Planning Board took steps to ensure the integration of the gender dimension in every project prepared by the local government institutions. In the standard format in which the local governments were to prepare their projects, it was made mandatory to include a statement on how the project would impact women under the chapter of benefit cost analysis.

A Women Component Plan (WCP) was introduced for which Gram Panchayats were expected to earmark 10 percent of their annual plan funds. As part of Women Component Plan, several Gram Panchayats took up awareness projects in study of women’s status.

In 1998, the State Planning Board published a special training manual for working groups on Women Component Plan titled ‘Women Development’ (Planning Manual Volume 11). Following this, ‘People’s Planning and Women Empowerment’ was published as training manual for the state level training of the Working Groups on Women Component Plan in 1999. Two subsequent volumes that the State Planning Board brought out - ‘Equity in Development’ and ‘Study of Women’s Status’ – took forward the discourse on the gender dimension in development.

The Planning Board also consolidated the experiences of women elected representatives across the State and published it as a book. A handout titled ‘Women and Local Level Planning’ was published to provide further directions to the planning process at the local government level. Subsequently in 2000, Planning Board published a volume titled ‘Peoples’ Planning and Women’s Advancement’.

By insisting on a section on ‘impact on women’ in the benefit cost analysis of every project that the local government institutions prepared, and by including gender as a theme for the massive training programmes rolled out for the Peoples’ Planning exercise, the State Planning Board systematically brought in the gender dimension into the development discourse associated with the People’s Plan Campaign.

Ayalkkoottasangamam (Convention on Neighbourhood Groups)

The first two years of the Peoples’ Plan Campaign (1997-98 and 1998-99) brought out several innovative experiments by local governments from different parts of the State. Neighbourhood Groups of various forms were attempted by different local governments for purposes varying from mobilisation for gram sabha to planning and implementing community based water supply schemes and other development initiatives.

There was a growing realisation on the potential of Neighbourhood Groups in mass mobilisation for local level planning. There was a need to examine the different emerging models and gaining from them so that these groups are used as forums for local level planning across the State. It was in this context that a large convention of Gram Panchayats with experience in Neighbourhood Groups was organised in Thiruvananthapuram. The convention had two convenors – N. Jagajeevan and Dr. Joy Elamon, both persons associated with the People's Plan Campaign in different capacities. 

Neighbourhood Groups existed in several parts of the State before the formation of Kudumbashree. These included groups formed in Alappuzha and Malappuram through the government-UNICEF initiative, Self-Help Groups (SHGs) formed by NGOs, groups promoted by Gandhian groups, and Neighbourhood Groups promoted by Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad in the Panchayats covered under the Kerala Research Project on Local Level Development (KRP-LLD). There were also groups formed by religious organisations and their outfits.

In preparation to the convention, five commissions were formed to examine the role of NHGs at the local governments across the State. The commissions were on governance, institutional finance, social work, women empowerment, and self-employment. These commissions were to study the models of NHG performance in these sectors and present their observations in the convention.

The convention was called Ayalkootta Sangamam and was held over three days in October 1999. More than 400 Gram Panchayats and 20 Municipalities were represented in the event; around 100 Gram Panchayats presented their NHG models and their experiences in working with them. The convention was organised in such a way that various types of experiences with NHGs across different sectors were presented and discussed thematically.

The way the convention discussed the various dimensions of NHGs and topics pertaining to the working of NHGs and PRIs shows the extent of awareness on convergence already in existence among the leaders of decentralisation.

Panels and Themes

Topic for Discussion

Chairpersons of Panels

1. NHGs and their role in the governance mechanism

Structure of community organisation – structures at ward and Panchayat levels; mode of participation of the community structure in governance.

T.V. Govindan, President, Peelicode Gram Panchayat

2. Poverty eradication through the NHG system

NHGs role in poverty eradication; strategies and approaches.

P.K. Asha, Chairperson, Thalasseri Municipality

3. NHGs and transparency

Role of NHGs in ensuring transparency in local governance.

Appukuttan Kaani, President, Vithura Gram Panchayat

4. Role of NHGs in promoting education

NHG role in improvement of school infrastructure and academic work in schools, NHGs working with students for improved academic performance

Antony Eapen, Principal, Mar Ivanios College

5. Health and sanitation activities through NHGs

NHGs in health and sanitation; NHG role in creating clean environment, health awareness, promotion of safe drinking water and public health.

M.P. Parameswaran, Chairman, Kerala Sanitation Mission

6. NHGs and agriculture

NHG role in agriculture; collective efforts in addressing farm level issues.

V.R. Sivarajan, General Secretary, Kerala Gram Panchayat Association

7. NHGs for monitoring development activities

NHG role in monitoring of local development projects.

Lathika Vidyadharan, President, Kerala Block Panchayat Association

8. Financial projects through NHGs

NHGs working towards making institutional finance available to communities.

W.R. Reddy IAS, Managing Director, Kerala Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (Milma)

9. Enhanced Resource Mobilisation and NHGs

NHG role in mobilisation of resources at the local level in tune with the approach of the People’s Plan Campaign to ensure project outlays exceeding State’s and local government’s budget provisions.

K. Sukumaran, Divisional Chief, Department for Decentralised Planning, Kerala State Planning Board

10. NHGs for cultural development

NHG role in preserving and promoting local cultures.

S. Subbaiah IAS, Secretary, SC&ST Welfare Department

11. Micro Enterprise development through NHGs

NHGs in micro enterprise promotion.

B. Chandrachoodan Nair, Divisional Chief, Industries Department, Kerala State Planning Board

12. NHGs in planning and implementing development projects

NHG role in local level planning, project formulation and implementation.

B. Sathyan, President, District Panchayat, Thiruvananthapuram

13. Women empowerment through NHGs

NHGs and the status of women; women empowerment approaches.

K.K. Lathika, President, Kunnumal Gram Panchayat

14. Role of NHGs in beneficiary selection for development projects

NHG role in beneficiary selection for development projects.

T.R.Chandradath, Director, COSTFORD

15.NHGs for empowering Gram Sabhas

NHGs role in mobilisation for Gram Sabha; making Gram Sabha as a forum for empowerment.

T.K.Balan, MLA.

At the end of the first day, the chairpersons of the panels summarized the discussions in their respective panels. On the second day, the five commissions presented their papers in five parallel sessions.

  • Governance –T. Gangadharan
  • Institutional finance – M.A. Aboobakkar
  • Social work–Joy Elamon
  • Women empowerment–T.N. Seema
  • Self – Employment–K.N. Harilal

The discussion that followed brought out insights on the NHG experience till then and generated ideas on NHG structure and its promotion in the context of the State government’s setting up of Kudumbashree Mission. The ideas were discussed, compiled and presented at a plenary session attended by all the NHG families of Ulloor Gram Panchayat. T. M. Thomas Isaac, Member, State Planning Board made the presentation.

The convention helped in consolidating the varied experiences across the State in working with NHGs. Strengths and weaknesses of different models were brought out. The convention provided several vital inputs to the design of the community structure in the context of Kudumbashree Mission’s endeavour to create such structures across the State. Above all, the convention brought out several ideas on convergence of local governments and Neighbourhood Groups.

T.M. Thomas Isaac, Former Member, State Planning Board