CSES in Media

Study calls for major revamp of Kerala’s poverty alleviation programmes

This report was published in The New Indian Express on 14.03.2024

The study suggested making Kudumbashree more inclusive as about half of the extreme poor households are not part of the women’s group.

A study by Kochi-based Centre for Socio-economic & Environmental Studies (CSES) has called for major changes in the state’s extreme poverty eradication programmes including making Kudumbashree more inclusive, prioritising extreme poor households under MNREGA and allowing upward mobility of the extreme poor people in higher education, with the state and local governments sharing the fee burden.

The study, released here on Wednesday, is primarily based on extensive field work in three grama panchayats which were chosen to capture geographical diversity and ensure representation of different marginalised groups. The panchayats are Panamaram in north Kerala with a significant presence of tribal population; Alappad in south Kerala with a sizable fisher population; and Asamannoor, a peri-urban area in central Kerala.

As per the Niti Aayog index, only 0.55% of the population in the state is multidimensionally poor. The corresponding proportion at the national level is 14.96%. Given the success of reducing poverty levels, Kerala focused on alleviating extreme poverty through tailor made solutions. At present, there are two state government schemes to address the issue of extreme poverty viz., ‘Agathi Rahitha Keralam’ or ‘Destitute Free Kerala’ launched by Kudumbasree covering 1.5 lakh families and the Extreme Poverty Eradication Programme (EDEP) covering more than 60,000 households.

The study found that 15% of the surveyed households lack the ability to cook due to the absence of an able-bodied member. Some of them now depend on their relatives or neighbours for food. However, such support can be erratic. Therefore, the local governments should supplement such efforts to ensure that there is no break in the provision. “The first option could be to entrust the Kudumbashree neighbourhood group or a neighbouring household to provide food to such households without interruption,” said the study, conducted by CSES researchers Athul S G, Dr N Ajith Kumar, Dr Parvathy Sunaina, Nagarajan R Durai and Bibin Thambi.

The study also suggested making Kudumbashree more inclusive as about half of the extreme poor households are not part of the women’s group. “Being the state’s poverty eradication programme, systematic exclusion of extreme poor households having only male members is not justifiable,” it said. Many such households have elderly persons with disabilities. Being outside Kudumbashree is disadvantageous to all households, including men only households as it is the state’s poverty eradication programme. “A mechanism to link such households with the state’s poverty eradication programme may be developed,” it said.

The study also recommended door delivery of essentials and other services, considering the high number of old-age and disability persons in the state. On upward mobility through education, the CSES study pointed out that no fees are charged in government and aided schools. However, the non-fee private expenditure is substantial as one moves up the educational ladder. “Once a household is recognised as extremely poor, the educational expenses of the children, including at the higher education level, shall be shared equally by the state and the local governments,” the study said.