Chennai: After the superhit "Amma canteens" across the state that sell hot meals at dirt cheap rates, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa launched fair price vegetable shops to sell farm-fresh vegetables at substantially lower rates in Chennai and its suburbs.
Thirty one such Pannai Pasumai Nugarvor Kootturavu Kadai (farm fresh cooperative store) were opened on Thursday.
The shops are a market-intervention by the government to stem the rising vegetable prices. In the recent past, prices of vegetables have skyrocketed in Tamil Nadu and the rest of the southern states.
The government departments (cooperation, food and consumer protection) procure vegetables directly from the farmers for the shops. With this step, the government has been able to keep the prices low by keeping the middlemen at bay. What is noteworthy that the move has not burdened the exchequer with a subsidy burden.
Reportedly, the outlets sold a whopping 13,000 kg of vegetables on the first day. Jayalalithaa had recently made a similar market intervention by offloading one lakh metric tonne rice, when prices were going up.
The Amma canteens are a global success story on food security now. The management of the shops have been modernised with computerised billing and barcodes, new machinery and expanded menu.
Jayalaliithaa's critics may argue that these "populist" schemes are aimed at the 2014 elections, but the fact of the matter is that food and welfare have always been undeniable critical issues in polls in Tamil Nadu.
Successive governments have demonstrated that such interventions are possible and can be replicated and sustained.
The state has a respectable repertoire of government models on welfare and social protection that work: nutritious noon-meal schemes, health intervention targetting adolescent girls, centralised procurement and distribution of drugs and other medical supplies, a PPP model for delivering health services in partnership with insurance companies and a state-run universal PDS among others.
Not that there are glitches, but still the state is not withdrawing from the social sector. Instead it is strengthening its role wherever common public good matter.