M. Karunanidhi: From health care to community living, his schemes were aimed at social equality

Farmers, transgenders, school children... all benefited from various programmes launched by the five-time CM.

August 08, 2018 12:29 am | Updated November 28, 2021 08:32 am IST

Concern for all: M. Karunanidhi and senior DMK leader Durai Murugan hearing the grievances of the public. Photo: DIPR

Concern for all: M. Karunanidhi and senior DMK leader Durai Murugan hearing the grievances of the public. Photo: DIPR

As Chief Minister for five terms in a socially progressive State such as Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi launched several schemes aimed at building social equality within the framework of the original goals of the Dravidian ideology.

More recent, but overshadowed by the AIADMK’s  elaborate programme, the comprehensive health insurance scheme for the poor is undoubtedly a jewel in his crown. Conceived and launched in 2009 as the ‘Kalaignar Kappeetu Thittam’, it aimed at providing health insurance to low income groups, allowing them to access high quality surgical and diagnostic care in empanelled hospitals. This allowed people to access emergency medical care wherever available, and not merely at government hospitals. The cover was subsequently expanded as was the list of conditions one could seek treatment for, but his ‘Kappeetu Thittam’ was certainly the very first step.

Health camps

‘Varumun Kappom’ camps, or preventive health check-up camps, were organised throughout the State in December 2006. Though dumped by the AIADMK government that followed, it was subsequently reinvented. The ‘Nalamana Tamizhagam’ scheme, rolled out during Mr. Karunanidhi’s final term as  Chief Minister, sought to take the message of prevention of non-communicable diseases to the people.

The financial assistance of ₹6,000 to pregnant women proved helpful to those without access to nutrition. The assistance has been hiked to ₹12,000 and is delivered in three instalments to encourage compliance with antenatal checks and vaccination.

Mr. Karunanidhi played an important role in setting up welfare boards for workers in the unorganised sector, including agricultural labourers, and more recently, transgenders. The boards facilitated people, who otherwise did not have a safety net, to access state-sponsored assistance.

Often criticised for his urban bias, Mr. Karunanidhi actually worked carefully to craft schemes to woo rural voters, perceived to be the AIADMK’s supporters.

The Periyar Memorial Samathuvapuram is among them. A scheme that will be talked about many years after its hasty, but rather quiet burial, it drew on Periyar’s message of social equality, setting up housing schemes in rural areas and inviting all communities to live together, sharing basic infrastructure and amenities. In a State where the ‘two-tumbler’ system exists in many forms and honour killings have increased, the attempt to bring together communities, some of them warring, in a single settlement was bold and well-conceived. The government constructed houses and provided civic infrastructure, and the houses were allotted to beneficiaries from different communities. According to the government website, the first Samathuvapuram was inaugurated on August 17, 1998, in Melakottai village of Madurai. About 145 Samathuvapurams were set up.

Helping farmers

The ‘Uzhavar Sandhais’ (farmers’ markets) were started to ensure farmers got fair prices for their produce, by removing the middlemen. Areas were demarcated for the markets and basic infrastructure provided, so that farmers could conduct business without losing out on commissions paid to brokers. The scheme, just like the Samathuvapuram, was launched with great fanfare.

The ‘Namakku Naame Thittam’ (loosely translated as self-sufficiency) was a participatory scheme mooted in the 1997-1998 budget to promote and strengthen self-help and the self-reliant attitude of the community. Several projects, especially in rural areas, were implemented with the local community pitching in with funds and even labour.

Another key scheme targeting the rural populace was the ‘Anaithu Grama Anna Marumalarchi Thittam’ (All Villages Anna Renaissance Scheme). It aimed at  injection of resources into village panchayats in five years so that they could provide statutory services as envisaged under the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1994, and enhance infrastructure.

The Slum Clearance Board was created during Mr. Karunanidhi’s first term in office and while the nomenclature seems draconian, it set out to build living quarters for people surviving in abject conditions in slums. It started by providing in situ tenements and infrastructure. The Beggar Rehabilitation Scheme was launched to provide life and livelihood to those who had taken to the streets to beg. In its implementation, however, controversies abounded.

One must also count amongst his achievements the ‘Moovalur Ramamirtham Scheme’ for marriage assistance to poor women, introduction of eggs in the noon meal programme, free bus passes for students, and the waiver of cooperative loans. In September 2008, during his last term as Chief Minister, he announced that 1 kg of rice would be made available at ₹1, going beyond the manifesto promise of providing it at ₹2, at PDS outlets.

In comparison to many States and the national average, Tamil Nadu has better human development indicators and Mr. Karunanidhi’s role in this, as the State’s five-time Chief Minister, is both crucial and substantial.

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