When the Kudumbashree programme was launched, the government of Kerala presented it as one aimed at eradicating poverty within ten years. The deadline has passed without achieving the goal, but the programme has won high praise for giving new hope to the poor.
Kudumbashree was born out of a Central government scheme designed to reduce poverty by encouraging those belonging to the weaker sections of society, especially women, to organise self-help groups (SHGs), which will promote the habit of thrift and organise credit to take up activities that will supplement the family income.
To begin with, SHGs were formed in selected areas in different States. In Kerala, pilot projects were taken up in Malappuram district and Alappuzha town. Encouraged by their success, the Centre asked the States to extend the programme.
The previous Left Democratic Front government redesigned the programme and christened it Kudumbashree. A Local Self-government department order, issued in October 1997, envisaged the formation of Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) comprising women from families below the poverty line, area development societies (ADSs) at the ward level and community development societies (CDSs) at the panchayat or municipal level for the conduct of the programme.
At the State level, responsibility for the programme vests in the Poverty Eradication Mission, headed by an IAS officer. It has an advisory committee headed by the Chief Minister and a governing body headed by the Local Self-government Minister.
The State government widened the scope of programme and introduced additional elements into it. Going one step ahead of the Centre, it set the goal of poverty eradication in ten years.
Kudumbashree was formally inaugurated by then Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee at a function at Malappuram on May 17, 1998. As the ten-year deadline has passed, Mission documents now speak only of poverty reduction, not poverty eradication.
Today Kudumbashree is a big institution with 185,071 NHGs, with a total membership of 3.65 million women, 16,950 ADSs and 1,058 CDSs. The members have mobilised more than Rs. 9 billion by way of small savings and received nearly Rs. 25 billion as loans from financial institutions.
The massive enrolment indicates that the programme now covers the entire population below the poverty line, with at least one member of each BPL family enrolled in a neighbourhood group. In the tribal areas, too, enrolment appears to be complete, with 2,347 NHGs covering 40,572 families.
There are also 44,241 children's groups with a membership of 776,000.
The NHGs are involved in a variety of activities from garbage clearance to small enterprises of different kinds. The enterprises cover such fields as information technology, hotels, food products, readymade garments and furniture.
A souvenir brought out to mark Kudumbashree Mission's tenth anniversary lists a number of success stories.
The Mission has demonstrated considerable skill in innovation. Its Ashraya scheme to help destitutes has rehabilitated 56,389 people. Its Santhvanam groups visit homes to check blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Under its rural micro-enterprises scheme, 3,893 units under group ownership and 1,268 under individual ownership have come up. It is encouraging NHGs to play an active role in the development of responsible tourism.
In the context of the steady decline of agriculture in the State during the past three decades, Kudumbashree's entry into farming is a hopeful development. It has brought nearly 250,000 families in 820 panchayats into agriculture. They are cultivating 54,513 acres of land.
The State government, which is working on a scheme to bring more land under the plough with a view to ensuring food security, is looking up to Kudumbashree units to make it a success.
The Mission's Bhavanashree project is helping BPL families to build houses. The CDSs received 61,026 applications for assistance under the scheme, of which 52,604 were forwarded to banks. So far the banks have advanced Rs. 1.86 billion to 44,586 applicants and 38,449 of them have completed their houses.
The Kudumbashree programme is closely linked to the panchayats. As the party which dominates the panchayats, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is able to wield considerable influence over it. This has prompted the Congress party to form its own micro credit project, styled as Janashree.
The CPI (M) has criticised the move, viewing it as an attempt to divert Central grants which may otherwise go to Kudumbashree. The appearance of partisanship in this area bodes ill for the future. –Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 30, 2008.