PTR's TN budget: The idea behind channeling girls' marriage scheme to fund studies
Presenting the Tamil Nadu budget on Friday, March 18, state Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan (PTR) said that as the economy bounces back from the impact of three COVID waves, it is time to rebalance priorities and focus on social infrastructure and development without compromising on welfare schemes.
“The scales of justice have been the symbol of the Dravidian movement from the days of the Justice Party, our political ancestor. From an economic perspective, social welfare and inclusive economic development are the two sides of the same coin. Last year, amidst the resurgence of the pandemic, we consciously tilted the scales towards social welfare with the goal of alleviating the pain of the weaker sections of the society,” said PTR while presenting his first full budget. He presented a paperless budget for the second consecutive year.
Scheme to increase girls’ school enrolment ratio
In a separate sub-head titled ‘Social Welfare’, the minister, invoking the lines of Tamil poet Subramania Bharati, ‘the time has dawned for women to earn degrees and make laws’, announced that the existing Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Memorial Marriage Assistance Scheme will be changed to ‘Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Higher Education Assurance Scheme’.
“All girl students, from class 6 to 12, who study in government schools will be paid Rs 1,000 per month by way of direct bank transfer. This benefit will continue till they complete their undergraduate degree, diploma and ITI courses. This benefit will be available in addition to other scholarships,” he said, adding that the Tamil Nadu government has made an outlay of Rs 698 crore for the purpose.
The scheme was announced mainly looking at the low enrolment ratio of girl students in government schools for higher education. Nearly 6 lakh girl students are estimated to benefit from this scheme every year.
Importance to education over marriage
It is interesting to note that in 1989, the then Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi had launched the Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Marriage Assistance Scheme to promote girl’s education and to support the marriage of girls from poor families.
Under this scheme, one of the prerequisites for the girls to get the financial assistance of Rs 25,000 and 4-g gold coin for their marriage was they should have appeared for Class 10 board exam but not necessarily have passed it. A girl who completes a degree or diploma would get Rs 50,000 and 4-g gold coin.
This condition helped arrest the dropout rate of girl students from schools.
“Usually, at the higher secondary level, we see the dropout rate among girl students is very high,” said S Anandhi, professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies. “During the pandemic, the dropout rate increased manifold. Also, we came to know that child marriage cases went up during this time. In order to stop this dropout rate, the government may have thought to remould the existing scheme.”
However, the state has not clarified if the existing financial assistance for marriage would continue in future because two welfare schemes by the same name cannot exist, said Anandhi.
“It appears that the government is giving importance to education over marriage. The government probably thought mere financial assistance for marriage will not make girls and women free and independent. It means that the present disposition is bringing back the ideas of Periyar, who fought for women’s independence and education,” she said.
She added that the rationale behind naming the scheme after Moovalur Ramamirtham could be that Ramamirtham studied only up to Class 3, but she fought for the education of Devadasi women and to end the Devadasi system.
Besides, an amount of Rs 1,949 crore has been allocated towards Puratchi Thalaivar MGR Nutritious Meal Programme.