It has been an eventful spell of 100 days. The All- India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government, headed by Jayalalithaa, has taken some decisions that have generated political rows but, the broad picture that emerges is a judicious blend of welfare measures and long- term strategies for the development of the State.
Ms. Jayalalithaa, who was sworn in as Chief Minister for the third substantive term at a colourful ceremony on May 16, went to Fort St. George on the evening of the same day to give her formal stamp of approval to seven proposals, all of which were welfare measures in nature.
As promised by her in the party's poll manifesto, the provision of 20 kg rice free of cost to eligible family card holders [numbering about 1.65 crore] under the Public Distribution System, 35 kg rice free to 18.6 lakh beneficiaries of the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), revised marriage aid schemes that included the distribution of four gram of gold free were some of the Chief Minister's first day announcements.
The others included increased monthly assistance of Rs. 1,000 for senior citizens, differently abled persons and a host of other categories, hike in the assistance to fisherfolk from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 2,000 during the mandatory ban on fishing and six-month maternity leave for women employees of the government.
To ensure coordination with various departments concerned and supervision of the implementation of the electoral promises, she also announced the creation of a Special Programme Implementation Department, which is headed by a diligent Minister with a group of enterprising civil servants.
In the current financial year, the food subsidy bill alone is projected to cost Rs. 4,500 crore to the exchequer and social security pension around Rs. 2,842 crore. The announcements of welfare measures did not stop with the first day.
Through the address of Governor Surjit Singh Barnala to the Assembly on June 3, the government came up with some more welfare measures. Free distribution of laptops to higher secondary and college students, free distribution of milch cows and goats/sheep to the rural poor and wet grinders, mixies and fans to women are the other important schemes, all of which will be launched on the birth anniversary of the former Chief Minister, C.N. Annadurai.
At the policy level, the government is very clear that primary and manufacturing sectors should again be made main drivers of the State's economic growth, of course without neglecting the role of the service sector. It will bring out shortly – Vision 2025 – to address the critical gaps in the key sectors that drive economic growth. A shelf of projects will be created for strengthening infrastructure and those projects will be put in the pipeline for continuous execution. The proposed document will cover areas — health, education, ports, power, roads, sanitation, urban transport (Mono Rail) and solid waste management.
To give impetus to the improvement of basic amenities in urban areas, the government has proposed two programmes — Chennai Mega City Development Mission and the Integrated Urban Development Mission. For the current year, Rs. 500 crore has been earmarked for the Chennai Mission and Rs. 750 crore for the other programme.
Conscious of the sensitivity involved in land acquisition, the government has planned to create a land bank by pooling government land and acquiring private land without adversely affecting the interests of land owners. One step of the government which has generated enormous interest among people is the drive against instances of land grabbing. All over the State, about 2,400 complaints had been received by 36 special cells constituted for the purpose. Early this month, the government issued an order, setting up 25 special courts to conduct trials of land-grabbing cases. Chennai would have two special courts and 23 other districts, one court each.
In the area of health, the government's most important initiative is the move to form a multi super-speciality hospital in Chennai. The proposed hospital will be housed in the now-abandoned new Assembly-Secretariat complex on Anna Salai.
In higher education, efforts are on to clean up the system and achieve transparency. In view of controversies associated with the selection of Vice-Chancellors during the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam regime, the AIADMK government plans to form an independent selection committee for the appointment of VCs.
Skill development is an area which has all along received less attention of policy makers. To correct this, the government has proposed to establish a world class training institute under the mode of public-private partnership to train youth in skills including aircraft maintenance.
In line with the approach of the Chief Minister who has been passionately advocating the case of the Sri Lankan Tamils, the Assembly, in June, passed a special resolution, moved by Ms. Jayalalithaa, demanding that the Centre take action to get all those responsible for large-scale civilian deaths, during the Sri Lankan civil war, declared as ‘war criminals' by the United Nations. The imposition of economic sanctions against Colombo was also sought.
It was no wonder that when United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Ms. Jayalalithaa in Chennai last month, the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils figured prominently in their discussion.
The State faces many challenges in sectors such as power. With a person at the top who is resolute on setting right priorities, the government, people hope, will tide over the problems and carry the State forward.