Chennai: As Jayalalithaa completes her first year in office, which was marked by an unprecedented media blitzkrieg across the country, what remains in one’s mind are her glorious announcements of mega schemes for the socio-economic development of the state.
In fact, the scale and reach of her schemes, and the constituencies that she has targeted, have been mind-boggling: she hasn’t left out anybody and it couldn’t have happened without tremendous planning and hard work, that too from day one.
In fact, her first array of announcements came as soon as she assumed her office, indicating that she was well-prepared for a headstart.
However, what one has yet to see is visible results.
Perhaps it is too early.
But if the entire state machinery is not continuously on the treadmill for the next four years, Jayalalithaa is likely to be burdened by the weight of her own promises because they are far too many, and way too big.
At the core of her promises is the “Vision 2023,” which in her own words seeks to make Tamil Nadu “the most prosperous and progressive state with no poverty and where its people enjoy all the basic services of modern society.”
We haven’t seen a more audacious plan and welfare-state-speak from any of our chief ministers. In her vision document, Jayalalithaa wants the state to become one of the top three investment destinations in Asia. She wants to multiply the per capita income by six times, build infrastructure on an unprecedented scale and roll out welfare schemes that will take care of basic needs of people such as health, education, employment and housing.
Even as a political statement, her vision is significant because it brings back the centrality of the state’s responsibility towards the welfare of its people in the midst of the neo-liberal fury.
Mixers, grinders and electric fans for women; milch cows, goats and sheep for the poor; free rice; four grams of gold and financial assistance for marriage of women and; laptops for students — these were among the first that Jayalalithaa announced as soon as she got to office.
Karunanidhi’s TV sets paled into insignificance.
In fact, it was AIADMK-founder and former chief minister MG Ramachandran or MGR, and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart NT Ramarao (NTR), who pioneered such imaginative and useful welfare schemes.
MGR introduced the noon meal scheme, which were scoffed at by some during his time, but subsequently became a best practice for other governments, international development organisations and students of poverty in international universities. It was a breakthrough in nutrition and school-enrollment.
Similarly the two rupee rice scheme of NTR has been followed by almost all his predecessors in Andhra Pradesh. Adjusted against inflation, two rupees doesn’t look all that cheap now, that too when compared with the one rupee rice schemes that some are pitching for now.
It is now globally accepted that during the times of economic growth, shocks and liberalisation, the State needs to spend on the welfare of its people. The World Bank, ADB and their ilk who once prescribed across-the-board structural adjustments, and the UN, now call it social protection. India, replete with examples from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, tops their list of case studies.
Let’s look at some of Jaya’s announcements during her first year and how well they fare.
Health: The Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme has won a lot of attention. She scrapped the previous health insurance scheme named after Karunanidhi and dropped the private company that handled it. Instead, she raised its scale and scope, and enrolled a public sector insurance company.
The government says that it has so far treated 42,848 people at a cost of Rs 110 crore. The revised scheme aims to strengthen government hospitals and makes it mandatory to use them for several common ailments. However, her critics can still say that instead of going the PPP and insurance way, she could have done better by investing in the state health infrastructure and its technical capacity, and universalised access to healthcare.
It will certainly take a few years before one could gauge her scheme’s success with some objectivity.
Women, poverty, etc: women and children have always been Jayalalithaa’s priority. During her previous regimes, she had paid special attention to maternal and infant mortality, reproductive health and women’s empowerment. This time around, the highlights include providing milch cows or sheep and goats to poor women for their empowerment; free mixies and grinders, free ration and marriage assistance. She also highlights the cash transfer to fisherfolk, relief to people affected by the Thane cyclone, monthly pensions and relief to the disabled.
However, what is missing is a breakthrough idea that could aim at the overall empowerment of women — a wholesale package than the headline-seeking retail benefits.
Education: The government claims to have built 11 new arts and science colleges and upgraded close to 900 schools; given two sets of free uniforms, free footwear, school bags and other teaching aids; and strengthened infrastructure for higher education.
There is more — she has a list that fills four full pages of newspapers that also includes roads and bridges, temples, water supply, tourism and so on. One can get completely lost in the maze of announcements and claims of achievements.
The hype is more or less predictable in the first year — at least it charts out the path and the development philosophy the government seeks to pursue. However, it requires enormous governance resources to implement them, let alone the money.
However, if at least half of what she promises gets done, it will be a significant success story.