The iconic leader and chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa passed away on Monday night, leaving behind a distraught state and a strong mark in Indian politics. While many consider her demigoddess-like appeal among the masses to be result of her popularity as an actress and a powerful personality, one cannot speak about the people’s affection for Amma without taking account of her populist measures that struck a chord with the poor.
India is far from being a welfare state, but if there is one region in the country that firmly went ahead with bold welfare measures, then that is the state of Tamil Nadu. Pro-poor schemes were always a part of Tamil Nadu politics, but it received a strong boost by Jayalalithaa’s policies under the ‘Amma’ banner. While the late chief minister had been accused of a number of corruption charges, her populist measures including subsidised food, health plans and free laptops, mixers and grinders among many such projects, ensured a solid support among the people of the state; well evident from the fact that she grabbed the chief ministerial post five times.
Here are some of the welfare measures initiated by Jayalalithaa.
Amma Unavagam (Amma Canteen): In 2013, Jayalalithaa announced the setting up of a chain of highly-subsidised restaurants across Tamil Nadu. The concept of ‘Amma Canteen’ went on to acquire immense popularity not just in the state, but all across the country as an ideal example of welfare schemes. With prices as low as Rs. 5 for a place of Sambar rice and Rs. 3 for a plate of curd rice, Jayalalithaa’s populist scheme was soon a hit among the poor who could effortlessly eat three meals a day under Rs. 20. Further, the scheme generated employment for a large number of women who were needed for the cooking and cleaning. By 2016, more than 300 such eateries had sprung up all across the state.
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Amma mineral water: In September 2013, Jayalalithaa launched a water distribution scheme with the aim of making hygienic water available to people at affordable cost. The price fixed at Rs. 10 for a litre is lower than the selling price of the water sold by the Indian railways. Amma’s mineral water is made available at all long distance state-owned buses and bus stations.
Amma seeds: With an aim to provide high quality, certified seeds to farmers at affordable prices, Jayalalithaa launched the ‘Amma seeds’ programme in 2014. The project that was executed in January 2016 was allocated a budget of Rs. 5.37 crore. The scheme also encouraged urban citizens to grow vegetables at homes. It involved distribution of kits with required ingredients for vegetable farming at home.
Amma cement: In the wake of a possibility of price rise of building materials, the late chief minister had announced the sale of subsidised cement. The scheme would involve the state government buying two lakh tonnes of cement from private manufacturers every month and selling them for a much lower price of Rs. 190 for a 50-kg bag.
Healthcare initiatives: Expanding her welfare benefit schemes to the health sector, Amma launched a number of healthcare projects. Foremost among them was the master health check-up scheme that involved a number of medical tests like blood, urine, cholesterol screening among many others for a very low rate. She also initiated a health plan which made available several medical facilities free of cost.
Free laptops to students: In 2011, Jayalalithaa initiated a flagship project aimed at better educational opportunities to school and college going students. She announced the distribution of free laptops to students across the state who have acquired a certain percentage in school and college examinations. The laptop distribution scheme was planned with the motive of encouraging digital education among students from a very early stage.