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Poverty Alleviation through Community Participation - UBSP

Keywords: Women and Gender equality
Community Participation & Urban Governance
Poverty Eradication


Urban Basic Services for Poor (UBSP) is a major component as well as the pivot of Urban Poverty Eradication Programme of the Ministry of Urban Affairs and Employment, operational in 25 states and 6 Union Territories covering 296 cities and further 169 through state universalization efforts reaching an estimated 10 million urban poor. One unique feature of UBSP is its participatory process of planning and action with women from poor neighbourhoods to improve health; education; environment; access to credit and improved incomes and other basic rights for their children themselves and their families. Over 130,000 poor women serve voluntarily, working in partnership with city, state, national Government, NGOs and UNICEF.


Urban Basic Services for the Poor (UBSP) is a strategy for the involvement of the urban poor especially women in improving their communities and situations within their families towards overall neighbourhood and ultimately city improvement. The approach has evolved from efforts in urban community development in the 1960s covering 20 cities, to the cost-effective, adaptable approach now being implemented across India in over 465 cities and towns reaching around 10 million urban poor with a momentum which has doubled coverage in a two-year period.

The state of urban poverty is reflected in its magnitude, estimated at 80 million (upto 40% of the total urban population) and in data reflecting poor health and education indicators; poor sanitation and housing. The status of women as reported in the country paper for Beijing adds to the scenario noting that women (in India) constitute the largest section of the population living in poverty. The Report further notes that their role in decision making is low; with patriarchal values reinforced through tradition, religion and other socio-political institutions. Women's participation in the work force has been limited; with a general lack of access to credit all together contributing to an intergenerational cycle of poverty and deprivation.

Since 1992, UBSP has grown from a handful of cities and women participating to a network in 25 States and Union Territories and over 130,000 women volunteers organized in 30,000 neighbourhood associations, recognized by the Government. Many of these women have said that before UBSP they were in their homes and could not interact with outsiders. Now, through the training and guidance provided, they are more confident, articulate and unafraid to make their needs and demands known both within and outside their homes. Over 100 of these volunteers have contested municipal elections (1995) with over 60 elected to date! One of the UBSP cities, Alleppey in Kerala received the UN "We the Peoples' Award" in 1995 (September) for its remarkable achievements in women's organization for children and women's needs.

Strategy :

i) Institutional Framework : At the national level, UBSP is one of several programmes under the Ministry of Urban Affairs & Employment's MOUA&E) Urban Poverty Alleviation Programme (UPA), with specific objectives of women's empowerment; attainment of social sector goals; and convergence with other Government schemes for long-term sustainability. State Urban Development Agencies or Cells manage the programme with structures also at the district level, especially those which have many cities and towns.

Within this overall national framework, the community organizational system is what makes UBSP a unique government effort for facilitating peoples participation, beginning in urban poor neighbourhoods. One (or more) RCVs (Resident Community Volunteers) is elected by her neighbours (15-40 households) as a focal point for communication and interaction forming a Neighbourhood Group (NHG). Units of NHGs (around 10 groups) from Neighbourhood Committees where mini plans are prepared, resources mobilized, and action taken. When formally registered, they may receive programme resources for direct management of actiivities. In some States, Community Development Societies at city or ward level are registered for advocacy, planning and resource mobilization especially for thrift and credit. Through UBSP, one paid Community organizer is generally available for initial organizational and planning work for 2000 households (10,000 persons), expected to work intensively in the communities for several years, helping the women towards self-reliant action. After some time, Community organizers initiate efforts in other neighbourhoods, often with the help of RCVs. At city level, Urban Poverty Alleviation Committees/Units are formed for convergence among departments and overall management.

ii) Management systems and decision making processes : Through broad national Guidelines (revised 1994), UBSP is managed and monitored by the MOUAE, at the national level. State Governments are encouraged to work towards the overall programme goals through systems appropriate to their needs and resources, with a range of institutional arrangements at State and District levels. Greatest flexibility is noted at city and community levels, with the neighbourhood associations of women directly involved in preparing community mini-plans which are reviewed, culminating in a city plan which links community needs with both sector and UBSP resources. UBSP's funds (average allocation $ 1.70/capita) may be used as bridge-financing for basic community needs. The overall investments in these communities may be increased many times by establishing linkages with other programmes, with UBSP resources to be then used for other community needs especially thrift and credit and income generation activities. Presently, community based planning is operationalized in a variety of ways and effectiveness, however, in atleast 11 large states and over 200 cities, poor women, are directly involved.

Through systems at national, state and city levels training, exchange visits, meetings, and communications efforts to strengthen the programme are underway. A recently revised MIS from community to national level has been introduced to monitor processes. As a needs based programme without a set package of inputs, it is a difficult programme to manage particularly at city and community levels, however, the flexibility which is encouraged is yielding positive results in better reaching the urban poor.

iii) Legislation/Regulatory frameworks : UBSP is the only centrally-sponsored programme which clearly and specifically targets all the urban poor. Two States have forged close links between community structures under UBSP and the representative structures under newly enacted 74 (Constitutional Amendment) Act in statewide legislation, also bringing together all urban poverty programmes with UBSP, by establishing state and city level Urban Poverty Alleviation (UPA) Cells and Funds. The women groups emerging under UBSP are encouraged to formally register as NGOs, important for access to other public resources with over 400 registered groups established.

iv) Social/sector policities : The National Commission on Urbanization (1988) recommended that urban community based programmes be universalized. Since 1990, UBSP has therefore been an integral component of the Government's Poverty Alleviation Programme, with the community systems available to all government programmes as a channel for planning, implementation and feedback. UBSP is referred as a strategy towards achievement of national goals outlined in the National Plan of Action for Children as well as state specific plans arising. Through city planning efforts underway in UBSP cities, sector specific strategies and programmes are being reviewed to meet the community demands generated with over 100 pro-poor city plans of action in place. In the banking sector, National Bank for Agriculture in Rural Development (NABARD) has for the first time provided concessional loans to the urban poor, reporting full recovery in the pilot state programme through UBSP.

v) Gender : UBSP is a women centered programme. As one State Coordinator has emphasized : "It is becoming a movement of women. It cannot be stopped. From a programme when it started a few years back and then changing into a strategy of empowerment, it has now become the way of life". Men are also involved in the programme and in a few states even as community volunteers, but within the context of the overall goals. UBSP directly improves the quality of life within Indian cities, especially for women, children and families living in poverty working towards its absolute reduction through this cooperative, participatory, women/community-centered approach.

vi) Use of New and Appropriate Technogy : Low cost technology appropriate to urban communities is encouraged. This includes introduction of smokeless chullahs (hearth) and simple cement cast windows and slabs for roofing, useful innovations in the small, congested homes in urban slums. Handpumps, maintainable at community level are used, with women trained to undertake basic repairs. Simple iodine test kits enable RCVs to test salt at community level, important for universalization of iodized salt and its objective : eradicating Iodine Deficiency Disorders. In Kerala, the Coir Board provided to UBSP groups an improved spinning machine which is more efficient and less harsh on the women. Potable water testing kits enable the women to monitor water quality.

vii) Access to Shelter : The Government has many programmes to help the poor improve their housing. UBSP groups help to identify beneficiaries. Through the formation of thousands of Thrift and Credit units, the credit-worthiness of many of those who are in need has been enhanced. Data from one State, clearly showed the linkage of Thrift and Credit to housing with over 25,000 improved homes in a 2-year period. In Andhra Pradesh, over 70,000 credit groups have been formed mobilizing US$ 1.6 million in the past 2 years. This combined with the State's decision to provide land tenure to thousands of poor households has resulted in home improvements on a large scale.

viii) Health and other sectoral services : UBSP has from its inception supported actively the achievement of health, nutrition, water, sanitation and other social sector goals providing an enabling and participatory community framework targetting the urban poor. Data collected over the years in over 300,000 urban households previously showed low immun ization coverage of children; low levels of ante and post natal care for women; high levels of malnutrition in children; high primary school drop out rates, poor sanitation, etc. In participating communities, this scenario has dramatically changed. Current efforts in city wide pro-poor planning shows that improved city-wide coverage through the UBSP systems are possible.

ix) Poverty Reduction : UBSP has a direct impact on poverty reduction, focussing on the effects of poverty and underlying causes; illiteracy, lack of information, lack of access to services, etc. The community structures and collective actions undertaken help in building confidence, promoting a self-reliant direction for community and individual change. More directly, UBSP has made available programmes for skill development. Revolving funds for small loans are administered directly by the NHCs. With the recent introduction of thrift and credit, the previously untapped savings potential among these women is now emerging.

x) Partnerships : UBSP is a partnership financed 60:40 between GOI and States, with city or community contributions, underway in atleast 50% of cities. Each of the 25 participating states has its unique experience in this programme, with details available in the full report prepared for Habitat-II.

Over 100 NGOs are involved, providing technical and mobilization support. Partnerships with sectoral programmes and other agencies such as water or electricity boards, banks, etc. are increasing based on community specific needs and plans. The Department of Health and Family Welfare has established working relationships with UBSP and the programme is an accepted strategy in the National Plan of Action for Nutrition. In one State, a financial formulae for targetted sector allocations at the state and city level for the urban poor through city level urban poverty alleviation cells has recently been implemented, now serving as a national model.

UNICEF continues as a partner, providing support towards training, management, research, communications, demonstration activities and NGO collaboration. The philosophy of UBSP is seen in programmes of other donors such as ODA-UK; Integrated Population Projects (World Bank) among others. A National Urban Poverty Eradication Fund (1995) seeks to tap resources in the private sector as well.


The Urban Poverty Alleviation/Eradication Programme of the Government has recognized many of the inter-related problems associated with poverty. The inclusion of UBSP in the national programme recognizes that the needs of women and children must be an integral part of the national strategy, with women's participation forming the framework for concerted action. In project cities and communities, with neighbourhood groups moving towards self-reliant action, dramatic improvements have been seen in health and education indicators, with the communities and families themselves taking greater responsibility than earlier, with government playing a facilitating role. Related improvements in community environments; increased employment opportunities, and efficient means of thrift and savings has resulted in credit systems which can now reach the poorest enabling them to directly improve their homes and settlements. While millions more need to be reached, indications are that a solid foundation is in place demonstrating on a large scale the positive potential of the UBSP strategy. It is hoped that these inter-related themes will be a part of the National Action Plans for Habitat II and will be considered integral to settlements planning for the future. We can then come closer to realizing locally and in the cities as a whole the global goals set forth in Rio, Copenhagen, Beijing, and at New York at the Children's Summit, now reflected in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


1) 100,000+ poor women are active voluntary advocates for their rights
2) 30,000+ women groups at neighbourhood level formed comprising of the urban poor
3) 75,000+ Thrift and Credit units formed among urban poor families
4) Over US$ 2 Million new savings generated from the above (from 1994)
5) 100,000 (Est.) new jobs for urban poor women created.
6) 25,000+ poor homes improved as result of above
7) 3 million (est.) persons have improved access to safe water
8) 1 Million (est.) families improved access to sanitary excreta disposal
9) 100,000+ homes improved with smokeless hearths
10) 2 Million+ households improved access/participation in PHC
11) Immunization coverage for infants increased 10-50% in project areas
12) Ante-natal services increased 10-25% in project areas
13) 60,000 (est.) children aged 3-5 access to pre-school learning
14) 100,000 (est.) children helped to enroll and complete primary school
15) 30,000 (est.) women participating in functional literacy classes
16) 10 Million (est.) urban poor benefitting directly from the above (as of 1995)


The UBSP approach has proved to be a cost-effective community organizational system which is staff and time intensive until groups are formed and understand their potential and undertake successfully collective action (time frame 12-36 months). UBSP provides one paid community organizer initially responsible for 10,000 - 12,000 persons. In some States, existing municipal staff such as Assistant Health Inspectors are redeployed. As community groups gain confidence, the Community Organizers gradually move to new areas, initiating the mobilization process with the support of previously organized women. As the NHCs/Community Societies formally register, they can access a host of other resources available to NGOs.

A network of both Government and NGO Training Centres has evolved in 16 states for UBSP, extending to neighbourhood level through city-based resource teams. Over 130,000 volunteers, and thousands of functionaries involved have been trained. This network of experienced trainers and centres with direct community linkages is an asset for future expansion. At the national level, the Regional Centre for Urban & Environmental Studies (Hyderabad) and the National Institute of Urban Affairs both continue to play an important role in training, advocacy, communications and policy related research and seminars.

While UBSP presently covers only a small percentage of the urban poor (est. 10 million out of 80 million), with the support systems in place, rapid expansion is already seen with 2 states universalizing the strategy including legislative and financial adjustments adding 100 cities within existing resources. A further 3 states have set in motion steps for universalization , and doubling of coverage in several other States is underway. The Prime Minister's Integrated Urban Poverty Eradication Programme (1995-2000) likewise adds 345 cities to the UBSP approach.

UBSP facilitates linkages with other programmes including health, education, social welfare and income-generating schemes mobilizing millions of rupees in additional funds targetting the urban poor. Equally important are the resources being generated by communities themselves towards community improvement and through their Thrift and Credit Groups.

The UBSP approach has inspired other national programmes like the Community Based Convergent Services, a district planning system, in the rural areas; Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK), a national credit scheme for poor rural women. Though the Department of Women and Child Development State Plans of Action for children are being prepared for all States with the 9 issued (1995) including UBSP as an approach to contribute towards reaching explicit Goals for the Urban Child by 2001 as well as the National Plan of Action for Children implying a continuing intersectoral commitment to 2001.

Since 1994, UBSP has widened its vision from a "slum pocket/project approach" to the ultimate goal which is poverty eradication within a total city perspective. It views the programme as beneficial for the urban poor, as well as to the entire city. This strategic vision supported by Government, sectoral departments, cities and communities is a strong foundation for reaching those yet unreached, urban poor. (Refer Question 13 for further references).


    Ms. Marty Rajandran, PO, UNICEF
    73, Lodhi Estate
    New Delhi - 110 003


    Mr. P.K. Pattanaik, Director, Empl. & Pov., MOUAE, GOI, New Delhi
    Ms. Marty Rajandran, PO, UNICEF
    73, Lodhi Estate
    New Delhi


    Dr. Dinesh Mehta, NIUA, 11 Nyaya Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi - 21
    Mr. P.K. Pattanaik, Director, MOUAE,
    Room No. 102, Nirman Bhawan
    New Delhi -
    110 011

    Dr. R. Prasad, RCUES, Osmania University, Hyderabad - 500 007

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