Jayalalithaa - 1948-2016

Popular leader, populist schemes

In this September 22, 2014 picture, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa distributes food at the newly inaugurated Amma Canteen at the Kasturba Gandhi Hospital, in Chennai.   | Photo Credit: S.R. Raghunathan

Cradle baby scheme

A brainchild of Jayalalithaa, the 'Cradle Baby' scheme was launched in 1992 in Salem district, during her first term, to combat the low sex ratio and to curb the menace of female infanticide.

She expanded it to five districts in 2001.

In the 2011 Census, all these districts registered an upward trend in the child sex ratio. The scheme was expanded again to cover five more districts in the northern region, which registered a fall in the child sex ratio in the 2011 Census.

In 2011, Jayalalithaa said 3,200 girls and 582 boys had been rescued. Of them, 2,088 girls and 372 boys had been given in adoption in the country, and 170 girls and 27 boys in foreign countries.

A recent study of cradle babies at the Dharmapuri district headquarters hospital, published in 'Paediatric on Call', found that over 18 per cent of parents had a change of heart and took back their babies.

In addition, Jayalalithaa instituted the ‘Girl Child Protection Scheme’, which provides financial incentives to impoverished parents to tide over educational and marriage expenses of their daughters.

All Women Police Stations

To specifically cater to the complaints and grievances of women, the first All Women Police Station was set up in 1992 by her government. At present, 200 such police stations are functioning in the State, with one in each sub-division.

About 40% of the All Women Police Stations in the country are located in Tamil Nadu. In addition, every police station has been ordered to have one Woman Sub-Inspector. “Women police in the State perform duties on a par with men, whether it is mob control or crime investigation or traffic regulation. It is a matter of pride that women are given opportunities to distinguish themselves in the difficult and arduous job of policing,” she recalled in her speech recently. Tamil Nadu has one-fourth of women sub-inspectors in the country. Overall, it accounts for one seventh of all women police personnel.

Rainwater harvesting

Another brainchild of Jayalalithaa, rainwater harvesting (RWH) was started as a kind of movement by the government in 2001. She made RWH compulsory in all buildings to replenish the groundwater tables, which were rapidly falling. Amendments were made to the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act.

Having an RWH structure became a pre-requisite for obtaining water and sewer connections in Chennai. There has been a marked improvement in the city’s ground water table and quality since, and as of now 7.82 lakh buildings have over 8.47 lakh rainwater harvesting structures.

The movement has been expanded to many other parts of the state (though it is not mandatory) to make people realise the significance of judicious use of water and groundwater recharge.

New Veeranam scheme

It was an ambitious project, pending for long, to cater to the drinking water needs of Chennai. Nearly four decades after it was conceived first, the New Veeranam Scheme, which envisaged bringing water from Veeranam tank in Cuddalore district to Chennai, was implemented by the AIADMK regime led by her in 2004.

Originally mooted in 1967 by then chief minister C.N. Annadurai and later by M. Karunanidhi who took over as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, the project was mired in corruption charges and political controversy.

Jayalalithaa gave a new lease of life to the project in 1993 and proposed to lay pipelines to draw 180 million litres of water a day from the Veeranam tank. The DMK government that followed dropped the scheme, citing huge expenditure.

After she returned to power in 2001, Jayalalithaa revised the project and renamed it the 'New Veeranam scheme'. Huge pipelines were laid for a distance of 230 km to carry water from Veeranam tank to the Porur water distribution station.

Since 2004, the Veeranam tank, located at the tail-end of the Cauvery river system, has been one of the major water sources for Chennai. It is considered a proud achievement of Jayalalithaa, one that helped to resolve the drinking water crisis in Chennai.

Tsunami relief and rehabilitation

Jayalalithaa’s administrative acumen was on display following the tsunami on December 26, 2004, that wrecked havoc along the coastal districts.

The entire official machinery was focussed on relief efforts. She got the best officers to lead the teams in each district and set up mini-collectorates, with officials from about a dozen departments working round the clock to provide immediate relief and long-term rehabilitation. Aid came in from the Centre, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and was supported by NGOs in the initial stages of operations.

In the aftermath of the deluge in Chennai, more than a decade later in 2015, her government came in for criticism as most parts of the city went under water for days. Again, she ensured that the government machinery worked overtime to prevent any disease outbreak.

Free houses, goats and grinders

Touted as the first such project in the country, the Chief Minister’s Solar Powered Green House Scheme was one of her flagship schemes. Launched in 2011-2012, it aimed at providing a proper home for families living below the poverty line, along with the solar powered home illumination.

By that time, Jayalalithaa was keen on the welfare of the poor more than ever before, and always talked about inclusive growth. Apart from the housing scheme, she distributed free grinders, mixies and fans, benefiting 1.80 crore women from economically poor backgrounds so that their daily burden could be reduced.

Another big hit among the rural folk was the distribution of milch animals in villages. It improved the living conditions of the poorest of poor, who were very thankful to her.

The government spent thousands of crores on these freebies every year, and defended it by saying the beneficiaries were poor who otherwise would not be able to afford to such basic requirements.

The schemes are, perhaps, one the reasons she returned to power in 2016.

Maternity assistance

In 2011, maternity assistance under the Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy Maternity Benefit Scheme was increased from Rs. 6,000 to Rs. 12,000 and given in three installments.

The first installment is given before delivery to those availing all required antenatal care services in government institutions; the second for those giving birth in government institutions and the third installment after immunization of the child.

Sri Lankan refugees are also eligible for assistance under this scheme. The scheme is aimed at providing assistance to poor pregnant women/mothers to meet the expenses of a nutritious diet, to compensate for the loss of income during motherhood and to avoid low birth weight of newborn babies. On an average, 6 lakh women benefit from the scheme every year.

Free laptop scheme

Taking the freebies scheme a step ahead in 2011, Jayalalithaa unveiled a free laptop scheme for students of government and government-aided schools and colleges.

The objective was to empower students and enhance their skills and ability, and was especially targeted at those in rural areas. It also was aimed at tapping the first time voters.

In the past five years, the scheme helped more than 3.25 lakh students. The government has further announced plans to distribute another 5.36 lakh laptops this year. Initially, the computers were not wifi compatible, but later all facilities were provided.

Despite criticism that some laptops made their way to the open market, there is no dispute that the scheme was a game changer.

Amma canteens

Perhaps the most popular and successful scheme is that of Amma Canteens, launched primarily to provide food to the urban poor at a low cost.

She launched the scheme at Santhome, Chennai, in February 2013. Now, the city alone has 407 Amma Canteens; other cities and towns have 247 more. Combined, they provide food at cheap rates to at least 10 lakh people every day. One idli costs Re. 1, pongal costs Rs. 5, variety rice Rs. 5 and curd rice Rs. 3.

Despite pointing out the rising expenditure for the scheme, even the Comptroller and Auditor General lauded the initiative. It is now being replicated in many other states.

Amma baby care kits

It was clear that everyone, from the elders to the newborns, came under her government’s welfare net. She launched newborn care kits for women giving birth in government hospitals in August 2014. The scheme was inaugurated a year later in September 2015, and distribution of the kits, containing 16 items, began.

The scheme is aimed at improving the hygiene of post-natal mothers and newborn babies, and inculcating hygienic practices among the mothers.

The kits contain, among other things, a towel, dress, bed, protective net, napkin, oil, baby soap, shampoo, soap box, liquid hand wash, nail cutter, baby rattle, toy, and 'sowbagya sundi lehiyam’ (a medicinal preparation to improve mother’s health).

Within a year, over 5 lakh mothers were given the kits.

(Reporting by R. Sujatha, R. Sivaraman, K. Lakshmi, B. Aravind Kumar, K. Manikandan, Zubeda Hamid and Aloysius Xavier Lopez)

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