The Kudumbashree Story

Women Empowerment


Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) added to the strengthening of ADS. ADS representatives were to be the ‘Mates’ for scheme implementation. Close to two lakh women were trained to work as ‘Mates’ in MGNREGS. This started emerging as a cadre developing knowledge on identification and estimation of works, and in work supervision. MGNREGS and its link with collective farming lead to the rejuvenation of the entire structure, and it benefited ADS the most.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA) guarantees 100 days of employment in a financial year to any rural household whose adult members are willing to do unskilled manual work.

NREGA stands out as a landmark legislation in India’s history for various reasons.

  • The Act was formulated through wide range of consultations with people’s organisations.
  • The Act addresses working people and their fundamental right to life with dignity.
  • The Act makes employment a right; people are not at the mercy of anyone to access work.
  • The Act empowers ordinary people to play active roles in implementation.

Objective of the Act

The basic objective of the Act is to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. This work guarantee can also serve other objectives such as generating productive assets, protecting the environment, empowering rural women, reducing rural-urban migration, and fostering social equity, among others.

India had rural wage employment programmes for several decades; but these were not really effective and had been fraught with several problems including corruption in implementation. What NREGA did was to transform the wage employment programme into a rights-based scheme, where people can demand work. It was the first ever attempt to help the rural poor access public employment through legislation.

NREGA was enacted in 2005, and the scheme was subsequently named ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

Basic Implementation Principles

  • Collaborative partnership and public accountability: The Act envisages a collaborative partnership between the central government, the State governments, the panchayats and the local community. Broadly, the main implementation activities are at the Village and Block levels; coordination is at the Block and District levels. Planning, supervision, and monitoring take place at all levels (Village, Block, District, and State). At each level, the Act sees the concerned authorities to be accountable to the community.
  • Community participation: The Gram Sabha is the statutorily mandated institutional mechanism for community participation. In addition, other methods of community participation could be evolved: local vigilance and monitoring committees, workers’ associations, local beneficiary committees, self-help groups, user groups and other grass-root structures. Active community participation is particularly important for ensuring transparency and public accountability.
  • Role of Panchayats: The panchayats at each level will be the principal authorities for planning and implementation of the schemes under the Act.
  • District Programme Coordinator and Programme Officer: The overall responsibility for ensuring that the scheme is implemented according to the Act belongs to the district programme coordinator at the district level and programme officer at the block level.
  • Coordination among agencies: Panchayats at different levels will need to coordinate with each other for the effective implementation of the Act. Similarly, Panchayats and District / Block administration will have to work together.
  • Resource support: The central and State governments will facilitate the implementation of the Act through timely and adequate resource support.

MGNREGS implementation was sequenced in three phases; starting with the 200 most backward districts in 2006, another set of 130 districts were covered during 2007-08, and the whole nation was covered in the third phase beginning 1st April 2008.


  • Implementation of the Act laid emphasis on institutions of local government, the PRIs.
  • It followed a three-tier governance structure involving planning at the Village, Block and District levels.
  • Act had ‘promoting sustainable development of rural economy through the generation of productive assets.
  • Panchayats were authorised to plan, design, and execute the projects.
  • Panchayats were to allocate the expenditure of material and labour in a 40:60 ration, thus keeping the emphasis on labour.
  • The State governments were required to meet payments for one-fourth of the material cost, including the wages of skilled and semi-skilled workers.
  • Central government was to meet the remaining expenditure on materials and the whole expenditure on wage payment to unskilled workers.
  • The Act required the State government to pay unemployment allowance in case it failed to fulfil the legal guarantee within 15 days of application.
  • The Act insisted on at least one-third of the persons who have registered and sought work to be women.
  • The Act made restricted the use of machines and contractors, along with providing the medical and accidental benefits to the MGNREGS workers.

In order to encourage female participation, the Act made provision for crèche for children along with other facilities of shade, water, and first-aid.

The Act had certain built in mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability.

  • The Act authorised Gram Sabhas within panchayats to conduct regular social audit of the projects taken up.
  • In order to ensure transparency in wage payments, it engaged Banks / Post Offices.
  • The Act provided for grievance redressal through the institution of Ombudsman at the district level (this is yet to be implemented).

Kudumbashree and MGNREGS

When MGNREGS was implemented in Kerala in 2005-06, Kudumbashree emerged as a major player in the implementation process within the Panchayat Raj framework.

At the time of introduction of MGNREGS, there was scepticism on its feasibility given the relatively higher levels of wages existed in the state.

“The scepticism regarding the feasibility of MGNREGS in the State was mostly based on the higher wage rates”, said Sarada Muraleedharan. “However, the wages that women got were in fact much lower; and traditionally women’s work participation ratio in Kerala has been low”.

According to 2011 Census, work participation ratio among women in Kerala was 18.23%. The State overcame the lukewarm response to MGNREGS and the scepticism that dominated the public opinion by Kudumbashree taking the lead and mobilising women through the community network to take up work. The concept of women’s labour groups, and the Kudumbashree NHGs transforming into labour collectives gave a much needed impetus to the programme.

“Women’s real wages were low; and this was worse among Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe women. Our mobilisation efforts centred on this fact”, said Sarada Muraleedharan. “Through our mobilisation, women came forward, saying that we will work together, overcoming early reluctance. Women started enjoying the work. When older people came in as resources for guidance, it also led to intergenerational skill transfer. NHGs stitched uniforms for the groups. There was a new-found dignity around work. The attitude was ‘we are not doing manual labour; we are doing government work’”.

The entire community structure of Kudumbashree had roles in planning and implementation of MGNREGS. “Taking an active role in MGNREGS and linking it with our collective farming programme, an advantage for us was that it made the three-tier system active like never before; the Neighbourhood Groups, ADS, CDS, all became active in the programme”, said Sarada Muraleedharan.

Among the MGNREGS workers in Kerala, 94% are women.

Community Network’s Role in MGNREGS


  • Interface with GP for preparation of labour budget


  • ADS member chosen as MGNREGS mate
  • Consolidation of identified works at ADS level
  • Job card application, photographs, job card distribution


  • Work identification
  • NHGs as labour groups
  • Participation in gram sabha for MGNREGS planning and social audit


Community Network’s Role through Stages




Kudumbashree Community Network’s Involvement


Registration of families of potential MGNREGS workers

GP President, Secretary

  • Attending training on MGNREGS at the block
  • Awareness creation among the larger population through the community network (CDS-ADS-NHG)
  • Special gram sabhas in all wards with the presence of ward member and ADS secretary
  • Ensuring representation of Kudumbashree members as Mates (as per the guideline No.J-11011/18/2007-MGNREGS, 25th Oct 2013)
  • Mates attending training at the Block level
  • Facilitating distribution of applications through community network
  • Collection of job card applications through a camp at ward level
  • Verification of details and other documents accompanying the application form through a camp organised at the ward level
  • Facilitating the process of taking photo graphs of the applicants at the ward level
  • Submitting applications to the GP


Distribution of job cards

GP President

Information dissemination and facilitation in the process of distribution of job cards


Receipt of work application

GP President/ Programme Officer

  • Information dissemination through the community network (CDS-ADS-NHG)
  • Demand for work taken to Gram Sabha
  • ADS mate maps out demand for employment from each ward


Selection of public work to be taken up in a GP

GP President

  • Identification of the work and sites under the supervision of assistant engineer (at the NHG level and submitting the list to the ADS)
  • Consolidating the various work lists at ward level
  • Mapping the possible integration of MGNREGS works identified with existing CDS plan
  • Mobilising MGNREGS workers of the ward for a project meeting at ward level
  • Presenting the consolidated work list to the ward member
  • Facilitating project meeting


Development and approval of technical estimates and issuance of work order

Junior Engineer/ GP President

Preparation of Annual action plan including labour budget


Allotment of work

GP President/ Programme Officer



Implementation and supervision of work

GP president/ Programme Officer/Designated agency

  • Mates attending training on roles and responsibilities on work site management
  • Mates receive muster rolls following which the work commences
  • Mates capture daily attendance in muster roll
  • Mates collect and distribute muster rolls every 14 days for the Panchayat
  • Creating awareness among MGNREGS workers about their entitlements
  • Providing tools and implements for work
  • Provision of amenities at work site
  • Assistant engineer and Village Extension Officer who are responsible for field monitoring is accompanied by ADS mate


Payment of wages

Implementing /Designated agency

Mates collect cheques for the payment of wages and credit to the bank accounts of the workers.


Payment of unemployment allowance

Programme Officer



Evaluation of completed work

President/ Programme Officer

ADS members coordinate social audit which is conducted by MGNREGS accountant


Evaluation of completed work

President/ Programme Officer

  • Awareness creation among the community about the importance of social audit and the process to be followed to conduct it in a transparent manner
  • Information dissemination about the conduct of Gram Sabha for social audit.

ADS nominating the mate for MGNREGS has been cited as a factor that contributed to the quality of the programme in Kerala, especially when compared with some of the states where mates have been contractors, and invariably, men.

Role of the MGNREGS Mate

  • Supervision of work sites
  • Daily attendance and muster roll
  • Facilitating applications for job cards
  • Submission of filled muster rolls
  • Facilitating participatory identification of works in the Panchayat