The Sunday Story Tamil Nadu is not just known for its Nutritious Meal Programme but also for a host of welfare measures for school students.

Tamil Nadu is not just known for its Nutritious Meal Programme but also for a host of welfare measures for school students. Among them are free uniform, textbooksand notebooks, free educational kits, free bus passes, special cash incentive for secondary students and free laptops for Plus-Two students. Distribution of bicycles free of cost is one such scheme that has evolved over the years and which remains popular among the students.

When the bicycles scheme was launched in 2001, it was meant only for girl students belonging to the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes, studying Plus-One and Plus-Two in government schools. Ms. Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister then. In the inaugural year, around 56,000 students got bicycles.

Three years later, the scheme was extended to nearly three lakh girl students belonging to the Backward Classes, the Most Backward Classes and the De-notified Communities in government and government-aided schools. In August 2005, the scheme generated more excitement when Ms Jayalalithaa decided to enlarge its scope to include both boys and girls, irrespective of social background. The total number of students covered that year was 6.14 lakh.

A policymaker, who was part of the decision-making process, recalls that it was consciously decided that the scheme cover even students who were having free bus passes.

In the last eight years, around 50 lakh students have derived the benefit. Of about 6.43 lakh estimated beneficiaries this year, girls account for 3.57 lakh. Within the overall figure, around 4.5 lakh students belong to the BC/MBC/DNCs; 1.7 lakh belong to the SC/STs and 15,000 are of communities.

Now, the scheme is applicable to those studying in Plus-One not just in government and government-aided schools but also partly-aided institutions. The Adi-Dravidar and Tribal Welfare, BC/MBC and Minorities Welfare and School Education Departments share the cost of the scheme, which is Rs. 212 crore for the current year. Bicycles are procured from three suppliers. The distribution, which was formally inaugurated by the Chief Minister a couple of weeks ago, will be completed “as early as possible,” says a senior official.

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