This paper was presented by Mr. P. K. Gopinathan, of Kerala, at “The Third Global Conference of the International Network of Alternative Financial Institutions (INAFI)” 16-18 November 1998, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.

 The Kerala Evolution

There are 58 Municipal towns in Kerala, including the Corporation of Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. According to the 1991 census 42.69 lakhs of people, live in 7.84 lakh households, in 58 towns. Through a community based survey in all the 58 towns of Kerala, using the 9 demontrable criterion of ‘Poverty Index’, 2.05 lakhs of urban poor families, with 1.1 million urban poor population, are identifies in the State. In the survey, all the households, 7.84 lakhs of them, were covered. This amounted to 26.72 percentage of the households of the municipal towns of Kerala.

Aiming at the welfare of the urban poor, especially women and children who suffer the severity of the poverty most, the Central Government formulated, during the 7th Five Year Plan, the Urban Service Scheme (UBS) in 1986 – 87. This was done with the assistance of UNICEF. The UBS Scheme was implemented in 168 selected towns, in 37 districts of the country. This scheme was implemented jointly by UNICEF, the Central Government and the State Government, with the co-operation of the concerned Municipalities. The UBS programme was launched in 13 towns of Alappuzha and Ernakulam Districts in our State in 1987. This programme which aimed at the development of the urban poor in areas of health, economy and environment, by imparting awareness and education, with focus on women and children. There was great stress on slef-reliance. Community participation was the corner stone of the programme.

Based on the recommendations of the National commission on Urbanization (NCU), the UBS programme was revised and introduced as Urban Basic Services for the Poor (UBSP) programme in 500 towns of the country during the 8th Five-year Plan period, which commenced in the year 1992-93. The UBSP programme was implemented in 16 towns of the State. Thus 29 towns in the State have benefited of either the UBS or the UBSP programme. Out of the 16 UBSP towns, Alappuzha, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram towns were selected as “demonstration towns” by the UNICEF. For the other towns, 60 percent of the cost of the cost of the UBSP programme was borne by the Central Government and 40 percent by the State Government. UNICEF extended financial assistance for imparting training to the project officers, community organisers, councilors, officers of UPA Project Cells formed in municipalities and other functionaries. With the inancial assistance of UNICEF, the Institute of Management in Government (IMG), at Thiruvanantapuram functioned at the State Training Institute (STI) and the Extension Services of Loyola College of Social Sciences, Thiruvanantapuram, functioned as the Field Training Institute (FTI).

The Objective has been to implement, with people’s participation, programmes for the health care of children, women and other members of the family, health education and awareness, drinking water, low cost teo-pit latrines, smokeless chulas, creating self employment opportunities for women, low ost drainage, facilities for imparting training to upgrade skills, immunization for children, sanitaton, personal hygiene, assistance for children’s education, shelter improvement etc.

Basic needs which are essential for human life are provided to the urban poor by coordinating and converging the resources and efforts of UBSP, Nehru Rozgar Yojana (NRY), Environment Improvement of Urban Slums (EIUS) and Low Cost Sanitation Scheme (ICS). These are the major poverty alleviation programmes, implemented under the Urban Poverty Alleviation Division of the Ministry of Urban Affairs and Employment of the Central Government. The UBSP is not a scheme but a strategy of coordination and convergence of various inputs and services available to the poor from all the existing schemes, programmes and departments. 

The Story of Alappuzha CDS – The New Approach

Meanwhile, in 1992 the Community Based Nutrition Programme (CBNP), supported by the UNICEF, was introduced in Alleppey town, converging it with the UBSP programme. Under the CBNP/UBSP programmes, a comprehensive Community Based Survey was conducted, to assess the impact of the Urban Basic Services programme, which was being implemented in the town from the year 1987-88. All the households of 7 wards, out of the 36 wards of the town, were covered in the survey. The data revealed by the survey were assessed, analysed and intensely discussed in the community. This was the beginning of an intense and emotional involvement of community of the poor in the UBSP/CBNP programme.

The poor women of Alappuzha town came forward to take up the challenge of improving the quality of their life by theselves, receiving whatever support that came from the Government, the Municipality, the UNICEF and other agencies through co-ordination and convergence. During the analysis of above survey result the poor women of Alleppey began to express their own ideas, firm views and needs. The following were some of them:

  1. The benefits of the programme should be focused on the poorest among the poor.
  2. The yard stick of household income, which was hitherto used to measure poverty, did not work in the field, as income data are difficult to obtain, difficult to verify and subject to manipulations and under reporting. The women needed an alternative method of identifying the poor by the community itself.
  3. Men dominate in planning and implementation of all programmes. Women had no role in decision making. The women of Alleppey wanted to make an effort to manage the implementation of the programme by themselves.
  4. The women wanted a formal community structure, with powers for planning, implementation, monitoring, decision making and raising resources.
  5. The women wanted the community structures to have linkages with the Municipality, the Government, the UNICEF and all departments and agencies to receive support and resources. They wanted the community structures of the poor women to become the common platform for all the agencies and departments to facilitate the convergence of inputs and services at the field level.
  6. They wanted to have an organisation linked to the Municipality, at local level, so as to function as an out reach service of the Municipality, but without direct interference in their self-management procedures.

Such a resolute attitude of the poor women reflected the effectiveness and impact of the UBS programme implemented over 5 years from 87-88 to 91-92.

The result has been the evolution and development of poverty index with nine demonstrable and verifiable factors which are co-related with the poverty status of the families.

The following are the nine factors of “Poverty Index”

  1. Thatched / Kutcha house/Sub standard house or hut.
  2. Absence of a latrine
  3. Only one person in the family has employment.
  4. There is at least one uneducated person.
  5. There is at least one child of 0-5 years old.
  6. Non-availability of drinking water within a radius of 500ft.
  7. At least one person uses intoxicants.
  8. Family belonging to the Scheduled Caste or tribe.
  9. Has means only for less than two meals a day.

Families which confront at least four out of the nine problems mentioned above, are considered “poor families” below poverty line.

The original basis for this new evolution was the Health and Nutrition Index propounded or developed by Dr. V. L. Srilatha during her fellowship programme in Harvard, USA. This was further field tasted in Alleppey in 1992 with community participation. The nine demonstrable factors to identify the poor families by the community itself was thus evolved and developed in 1992 jointly by Dr. V. L. Srilatha of UNICEF, and the author. This is a very simple and effective tool to identify the real poor. It is a “closed loop system” without much scope for manipulation. The political patronage which is prevalent in our society, to decide on the targeting of beneficiary families and groups at the field level. Poverty Index is a simple enough tool which can be used by the local community members with even very little education. The UNICEF and State Government approved the Allapuzha CDS bylaws in January 1993.

After conducting a survey using the Poverty Index as given above, the community of the poor itself identified the “poor families”. The next step was the formation of the Neighborhood groups (NHGs), consisting of women of 20 to 40 beneficiary families: Area Development Society (ADSs), at the ward level consisting of a number of NHGs: Community Development Society, Apex Society of ADS’s at the town/city level. These were formed in Alappuzha in Feb. 1993.

The Alappuxha community Society (CDS) consists of 350 Neighborhood groups with 10304 members spread out in 24 ADSs. The Alappuzha CDS has 10304 women members, representing the 10304 poor families out of a total town population of about 35000 families. This means that about 29% of the towns households are households of the poor below poverty line. This was truly revealing.

Bottom Up Planning Process

The organistainal structure of the CDS provides a Community Governance system that enables women from the poorer families to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate programmes for their own development. The CDS structure is a Three Tier System. The basic unit is the Neighborhood Group (NHG), consisting of women from 20-40 families. This NHG has an elected, five member committee. The 5 member NHG committee consists of 5 Resident Community Volunteers. Thus in place of one Resident Community Volunteer per NHG, every NHG in Kerala has five volunteers. This has increased the active community NHGs, form the membership of the Area Development Society (ADS). At the town level the Community Development Society (CDS), is the apex body of which the various ADSs of the town ca be considered as branches. NHG Committees prepare the Micro Plan or the NHG plan for the NHG area, and based on their own felt needs. The ADS Governing Committee receives all the NHG Micro plans, integrates them, and thus prepares the Mini Plan or the ADS Plan. These Mini Plans or ADS Plans are given to the town CDS, which integrates the ‘CDS Town Plan’.

Elected Governing Board and Office Bearers

The NHGs, the ADSs and CDS elect their office bearers. The NHG elects the NHG President and the NHG Committee for a two year term.

The ADS elects the ADS Chairperson and Governing Committee. The CDS elects the CDS President and Governing Board. The term of office for all these bodies is 2 years. The Chairperson and President of ADS/CDS can be elected only for two terms.

Linkage with Local Bodies

The CDS system is linked to the Municipal system of the State. As per the CDS bylaws the officials of the local bodies (Municipalities) are the ex-office “Member Secretaries” of the Ads and CDS of the municipality are co-opted to the Governing Bodies of CDS and ADS, so that their expertise can be used. But none of the co-opted members have voting right, so that the decision making power rests only with the elected women office bearers at different levels.

The Crafted Collaboration

At the ward level, the elected Municipal Councilor is the Chairman of the Ward Advisory Committee, and at the town/city level, the Municipal Chairman/Mayor is the Chairman of Town Advisory Committee of CDS. Nominated 6 women councilors of the municipality are in the above advisory committee. Corporation/Municipal Secretary is the Convener of the committee in which all heads of departments of Corporation/Municipality and other city/town level officers are members.


In 1995, a UPA Project Cell was created in all the towns under UPA Project Officers. There are Community Organisers (CO), under the UPA Project Officer. UPA Project Officer is the ex-officio Member Secretary of CDS. The beneficiaries of programmes are identified by the ADS/CDS system, and the expenditure of these schemes is incurred from the UPA fund account. This fund account id operated separately by the Municipal Secretary who in turn transfer the fund to CDS and processing all the expenses through the CDS system. When the Government formed 58th Municipality in the State in 1997, CDS is formed in 1997 itself.

Statutory Backing of UPA Fund and CDS

Under Section 284 of Kerala Municipalities Act 1994, which was enacted by the Government of Kerala, consequent on the 74th constitutional amendment, every Municipality created a separate “UPA Fund Account”. By this law, 2% of the total annual revenue of the corporation/municipality has to be transferred to this UPA fund account. The above contribution of the local body and the Government, have to be transferred to the CDS for implementation of programmes. ADS Chairperson is a member of the Statutory Ward Committee of the local body. But the CDS has autonomy and independence, with self sustaining power, grown as a delivery mechanism on poverty eradication and related programme at the community level.

NABARD Steeped in

As far as the efforts of Poverty Eradication are concerned, it was turning point when the National Agricultural Bank for Rural Development (NABARD), came forward to co-operate with the CDS system of the State. The assistance extended by NABARD strengthened the poverty alleviation scheme, and helped to bring about qualitative change in the programme’s possibilities. By the formation of Micro-Credit system linked to formal banking institutions which opened up access to credit to poor for self employment and emergency needs at easy and affordable terms at their own neighborhood.


The Field Training Institute (FTI), located in Loyola College campus, has supported the Government, the urban local bodies, and the community with its well planned training programmes and professional research studies and surveys. With the help of the Trainers on Call (TOCs) who were trained by the FTI, and other experienced personnel of UBS/UBSP towns, the FTI has also conducted town level training to community members to conduct Rapid Survey, to identify the poor families in the towns.

Kerala Urban Poverty Alleviation Fund Scheme

The Government of Kerala have issued the ‘Kerala Urban Poverty Alleviation Fund scheme Rules 1994’, as required under section 284 of Kerala Municipalities Act 1994. By the creation of the above mentioned structures and processes, convergence of the inputs of NRY, EIUS, LCS schemes to the urban poor families, with the UBS/UBSP programme, and through the instrumentality of the CDS have been made possible in this State. By this CDS has become a statutory community system under local bodies.

CDS Training Centres

The Alappuzha CDS has already moved to its own premises and extensive office building, given by the Alleppey municipality, in a rather sprawling campus. They have set up a CDS training centre in this campus. Alleppey women have given field level training to about 400 CDS functionaries of Malappuram district CDS. 35 women leaders from Salem district have undergone training in Alleppey CDS. The Government intend to open up CDS training centres in all the towns. CDS training centres will be developed in all the 58 towns during 1995 itself.

United Nations recognised CDS system two times; in 1995 and 1998

Alappuzha CDS received ‘we the people 50 communities’ award in commemoration of 50th anniversary of ‘UN’ in 1995 in New York. Again on 5th October 1998, UNCHS recognised the CDS system of Kerala for the participation of the poor in Governance of Poverty Eradication , a global best practice.

CDS system is in all Urban Areas of India

The Government of India, adopted the CDS concept for urban poverty alleviation through the Swarna Jayanthi Shahari Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY) introduced in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of India’s independence.

State Poverty Eradication Mission

With Rs.2000 crores (Rs.20000 million) in 5 years

From the lessons learnt on the implementation of community based poverty eradication in urban areas and rural district of Malappuram, through the network of more than 11000 NHGs, 1300 ADSs and 158 CDS by the direct involvement of about 55000 community volunteers, under the support of local body officials and elected representatives the State Government has taken up the implementation of State Poverty Eradication Mission. In this historic mission there are 14 partners including NABARD, HUDCO, UNICEF, UNFPA, Local Bodies etc. There would be 62000 NHGs, 10050 ADSs and three lakhs community volunteers. The programme is to benefit about 10 million poor of the state. There will be district level and local body level mission set up to support community action. The total financial outlay comes more than Rs.2000 crores (Rs.20000 million). The construction of 5 lakh houses (0.5 million) for poor supported by HUDCO is also included. This is a 10 year programme. The programme called KUDUMBASHREE, meaning the prosperity of family, was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India on May 17th 1998 at a historic meeting of poor at Malappuram in which about 1.5 lakhs of poor participated.


All these are attempts to alleviate ‘poverty’, which is politics, religion and caste. Through this mission it is possible for women to gain self confidence, leadership skills and knowledge in administrative and developmental matters and public affairs. It is also possible to enhance their status and reputation at home and in society. In addition to all this, a new development culture is taking shape at the community level. It has been proved that women, and poor women at that, are not the proverbial “weaker” sex, and that they can play significant and creative roles in the reconstruction of the nation. Similarly, through the implementation of the scheme, it will be possible to achieve greater communal amity and peace, at the community level, and to divert the attention of the society to more creative matters. In short, the CDS model is certainty a new contribution towards the alleviation of poverty through people’s participation.

The benefits of the economic liberalisation introduced in the country should not accrue exclusively to the upper strata of the society. It must be available to the poor sections. The Panchayat Raj system, which has introduced greater decentralisation of power, resulting from the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution, must be useful in alleviation of India’s proverbial poverty. There is no doubt that, when the CDS which is the best community level set up for achieving poverty alleviation through real participation of the beneficiaries, is extended to the 991 panchayats in our State, the welfare of the poor can be realised in the manner in which it was visualised by the Father of the Nation. It will certainly be a revolutionary and quantitative change in community development in India. It is the existing formal agencies, the Municipalities, the State Government, the UNICEF, the Banks, NABARD etc., which have actually strengthened the community based structures, which in their turn, have helped the poor to identify their problems, generate their own resources, and plan and implement their own programmes with very little overhead establishment costs. And it is this reason which makes this model replicable, of course with due respect for local variations. We feel that it is not an impossible task at all to think in terms of creating one CDS in each town or panchayat of this nation.

The programme is implemented as family focused programme managed by women who bear the burnt of poverty. This programme is targeted to the family as a unit and incorporate all the basic concers of the poor in their day to day living. By this approach political conflicts could be avoided. The programme has so far, successfully kept away any influence of caste, creed, religion, politics and other divisive tendencies at the grass roots. The empowerment of women is achieved through the process of implementation of the programme. Poverty Eradication is the goal, this is not an easy task. It is a challenge. But the best way to meet the challenge is to create a movement, a movement to liberate the poor from hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Our effort is to make a hunger free state through the eradication of ill effects of poverty and helplessness and to live human life with dignity.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: