Stalin @1: It’s an A+ for efforts in economy, education, women’s empowerment

A separate budget for agriculture, enhancing the school education department and providing free public transport for women are key initiatives taken under the Dravidian Model

The MK Stalin-led DMK government will celebrate one year of its regime on Saturday, May 7. The party rode to power with an absolute majority after a gap of 10 years. When Stalin uttered the words ‘Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin’ while taking oath as Chief Minister, Dravidian sympathisers were elated; the grand style of expanding the initials was a prelude to what the party was going to achieve in the coming years, they said.

A year down the line, it appears to have been a mixed bag. The efforts require a pat on the back, say observers, but the results will take some time to manifest.

The performance can be rated with the help of three indicators – the economy, education, and empowerment of women. These, after all, are the most important parameters in the Human Development Index.

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According to economist J Jeyaranjan, who is also a member of the state planning commission, these basic parameters happen to be the pillars of the Dravidian Model. “Today, Tamil Nadu is ranked top in education, women’s rights and for giving priority to the economy. That’s why the current regime is being called the Dravidian Model regime,” he said while delivering a lecture recently.

Economy: The right signal with a pro at the helm

Among the first big steps the DMK government took to improve the state’s economy was to table a white paper on TN’s financial situation. State Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan (PTR), who holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and has worked with global financial giants, not only brought out the white paper but could also discuss the state’s finances with elan. It provided some much-needed transparency on  the state’s fiscal position.

The report not only reviewed the economic scenario under the 13th (2006-11), 14th (2011-16) and 15th (2016-20) legislative assemblies of TN, but also gave an analysis on the state of major public sector enterprises like water, power, transportation and local administration.

Over the past 50 years, while the Dravidian parties have had several social and economic visionaries in their fold, there have not been too many legislators formally trained in economics and finance. In this backdrop, the release of the white paper, which lent as much priority to social upliftment as it did to economic growth, was viewed as a significant move. The DMK government followed it up with a ₹3 per litre reduction in VAT on petrol.

Soon after it came to power, the TN government named former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan and Nobel laureate Esther Duflo as part of a five-member Economic Advisory Council to the Chief Minister. The others in the panel were former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, development economist Jean Dreze and former Union Finance Secretary S Narayan. While the panel’s contributions are yet to be quantified, the move certainly helped in perception-building, sending out the signal that the state has the right climate to draw investments.

Also read: Why Stalin should address corruption first before raising MGNREGA work days

Stalin has also created a separate budget for agriculture. Interestingly, his Finance Minister PTR, in his first full budget, tabled on March 18, said that while the economy is bouncing back, the government must rebalance its priorities and focus on social infrastructure and development, without compromising on welfare schemes.

“On account of prudent fiscal management on the part of this government, the overall revenue deficit has decreased to ₹55,272.79 crore in revised estimates, as against the budgeted amount of ₹58,692.68 crore,” he noted.

On the growth path

A Narayanamoorthy, advisory board member, Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, Hyderabad, told The Federal that the two major initiatives — the formation of an Economic Advisory Council and the planning commission — can put the state on the development path.

“Though the state planning commission is already there, the newly-constituted commission is very active. The government is also taking steps to attract global investments. Overall, the current disposition is sending the right signals that the state is on a growth trend,” he observed. 

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However, he noted that it will take at least three years to assess the fate of these programmes.

Further, according to Narayanamoorthy, the DMK assumed power in an abnormal year, when the COVID pandemic was still raging. “Also, the state’s financial status is not good. Despite this, it announced some 87 new programmes in its 2021-22 budget. But the amount allocated for those programmes are a mere ₹1 crore or ₹2 crore. That amount will be sufficient only for basic needs like vehicles, building, etc. At least, ₹5 crore needs to be allotted for programmes to be successful,” he added.

Also read: TN panchayats face cash crunch as state government assumes most powers

Education: Hand-holding students in post-COVID world

Abolishing NEET was one of the DMK’s poll promises. After it came to power, it passed a  resolution against NEET twice; both times, it was either rejected or withheld by Governor RN Ravi. The DMK-led government may have received brickbats for this setback but it has advised the student community to prepare for NEET until the state gets an exemption. Education experts have lauded the wisdom of the move.

The TN government has also given a major thrust to improve the school education department. In the latest state Budget, the department received a whopping ₹36,000 crore to strengthen school infrastructure, as government schools have witnessed a sudden influx of students from private schools, due to COVID-led job losses and salary cuts. 

To bring back student dropouts and to brush up basic skills – reading, writing, arithmetic – before embracing regular classes, the government has introduced the Illam Thedi Kalvi (‘Education at doorstep’) scheme. Recently, school management committees have also been revived to strengthen state-run schools.

However, there is criticism over the “step-motherly attitude” being shown towards government-aided schools, which also come under the ambit of state-run schools. These schools receive grants from the government but the administration is run by private parties. Education activist PB Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary, State Platform for Common School System, told The Federal: “Treating government-aided schools on par with private schools is wrong. This kind of perception started during the last regime and it continues with this regime.”

According to Babu, the government pushes aided schools, which are larger in number than the government schools, to become self-sufficient. “If the aided schools are deprived of grants, they would be forced to shut down. Before the Assembly polls, the DMK youth wing published a book titled Aram Vellum. It discusses various problems related to schools and education. If any of the officials from the school department bothered to read that book, they would have done a better job,” Babu added.

Also read: FDI in TN increased by 41.5%, more investments via GIM 2023 expected: CM

Women’s empowerment: The sweet smell of independence 

One of the earliest schemes launched by the current disposition, which was also warmly received, were free bus rides for women. Around 60 per cent of the state’s daily wage labourers are women, and the fairer sex makes significant contributions to the state’s economy. Hence, the free bus ride scheme has come as a shot in the arm for working women. The scheme is expected to increase the participation of women in the labour force.

Secondly, the government made single women, separated from their parents and husbands, eligible to receive ration cards. Single women in the state now enjoy ‘family’ status.

Thirdly, the erstwhile Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Memorial Marriage Assistance Scheme has morphed into the Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Higher Education Assurance Scheme. Under the earlier scheme, girls who had completed their school education received financial assistance during their wedding.

Under the revamped scheme, all girl students from Classes 6 to 12 in government schools get ₹1,000 per month directly credited into their bank accounts. This continues without interruption till they complete their undergraduate degree, diploma or ITI courses. This scheme has been announced in the backdrop of very low enrolment of girl students from government schools in higher education. It is expected that nearly 6 lakh girl students will benefit from this scheme every year. By altering the existing scheme, the government has sent out the subtle signal that education is more important for a woman than getting married. 

She decides

B Jeeva Sundari, a labour activist and author, told The Federal that the schemes launched by this government have liberated women and reduced their dependence on others. “For instance, female daily labourers are now able to save a considerable amount of commute money,” she said, adding that similarly, by altering the Moovalur Ramamirutham scheme, the government has essentially given girls the choice of getting married or staying single.

“Now, if a girl gets educated and is well placed in a good career, she can decide how much gold she wants to buy for her marriage. She doesn’t need to depend on her family,” Jeeva Sundari said.

Tamil Nadu