The Central Social Welfare Board came into being in an era when welfare services for the disadvantaged sections of society were not systematised and the welfare infrastructure was not yet a formal construct. In the newly independent nation, visionaries such as Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Pt. Govind Vallabh Pant and Sh. C.D. Deshmukh were preparing the blue print for the holistic development of all sections of the community against the background of recent Partition and communal disharmony. Dr. Durgabai Deshmukh, veteran social worker, parliamentarian and member of the Planning Commission was entrusted the responsibility of standing at the helm of the nascent Board that was perceived as an interface between the resources of the Government and the energy and outreach of the voluntary sector.
Voluntary effort in the field of welfare in India during the early fifties was largely an amorphous and individualistic attempt to provide ‘fire fighting’ measures in areas where extreme marginalisation was taking place. In such a perspective the first aim of the Board was to promote voluntarism and the setting up of voluntary organizations. This could not be carried out without any preliminary baseline data that would provide a direction and purpose to the implementation of welfare programmes.
In other words, the early days of the Board in an uncharted territory were a time of determining the felt needs of society and formulating programmes to address those needs, while simultaneously creating an environment of voluntarism at every level so that voluntary organizations that could implement these programmes could be established. This seemingly impossible, Herculean task was given to the founder Chairperson of the Board, Dr. Durgabai Deshmukh.
In response to the surveys and information collected, a multiplicity of programmes were designed. Most of these addressed simple needs such as, balwadis for the children of women workers, Hostels for Working Women and aid to various organizations that are working for the aged, handicapped and other such groups. Welfare Extension Projects and Border Area Projects were started in areas where there were no organizations to implement the programmes of the Board. The Board gave assistance for family welfare, aid to ‘cases of undeserved want’ – old age, sickness, disablement and unemployment. It also organized emergency relief in natural disasters. Apart from this, the Board organized programmes of training in social work and carried out pilot projects.
Over the years, the Board has been steadily evolving into a mature instrument of social change that has its anchor in the changing realities of our society. In order to maintain the topicality of its schemes and programmes and to remain responsive to the needs of society, the Board has been revamping and redesigning or formulating programmes that best fulfill emerging requirements.