A separate budget for agriculture, the strengthening of the school education department and the provision of free public transport to women are key initiatives taken under the Dravidian model
The DMK government led by MK Stalin will celebrate one year of its rule on Saturday May 7. The party came to power with an absolute majority after a 10-year gap. When Stalin uttered the words “Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin” while taking the oath as chief minister, Dravidian sympathizers were delighted; the grand initials expansion style was a prelude to what the party would achieve in the years to come, they said.
A year later, it seems to have been a mixed bag. Efforts require a pat on the back, observers say, but results will take time to show.
Performance can be assessed using three indicators – economy, education and women’s empowerment. These are, after all, the most important parameters of 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 first in education, women’s rights and economy priority. This is why the current diet is called the Dravidian model diet,” he said recently at a conference.
Economy: The right signal with a pro at the helm
One of the first major steps taken by the DMK government to improve the economy of the state was to file a white paper on the financial situation of TN. 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 released the white paper but may also discuss of state finances with Elan. It has provided much-needed transparency on the state’s fiscal situation.
The report not only reviewed the economic scenario under the 13th (2006-11), 14th (2011-16) and 15th (2016-20) TN Legislative Assemblies, but also gave an analysis of the state of major businesses in the public sector such as water, electricity, transport 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 formally trained legislators in economics and finance. In this context, the publication of the white paper, which gave as much priority to social improvement as to economic growth, was considered an important step. The DMK government followed with a reduction of ₹3 per liter VAT on petrol.
Shortly after taking office, the TN government appointed former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and Nobel laureate Esther Duflo as part of a five-member economic advisory council to the chief minister. Other members of the panel were former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, development economist Jean Dreze and former Union finance secretary S Narayan. Although the panel’s contributions have not yet been quantified, this decision has certainly helped to strengthen the perception, sending a signal that the state has the right climate to attract investment.
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Stalin also created a separate budget for agriculture. Interestingly, its finance minister, PTR, in its first comprehensive budget, tabled on March 18, said that as the economy rebounds, the government must rebalance its priorities and focus on social infrastructure and development, without compromising social protection schemes.
“As a result of careful fiscal management by this government, the overall revenue shortfall has narrowed to ₹55,272.79 crore in the revised estimates, from the budgeted amount of ₹58,692.68 crore,” he said. he noted.
On the way to growth
A Narayanamoorthy, Advisory Board Member, Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy, Hyderabad, said The Federal that the two main initiatives – the formation of an Economic Advisory Council and the Planning Commission – can put the state on the path to development.
“Although the state planning commission is already there, the newly constituted commission is very active. The government is also taking steps to attract global investment. Overall, the current arrangement sends 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 programs.
Moreover, according to Narayanamoorthy, the DMK took power in an abnormal year when the COVID pandemic was still raging. “Furthermore, the state’s financial situation is not good. Despite this, it announced some 87 new programs in its 2021-22 budget. But the amount allocated for these programs is only ₹1 crore or ₹2 crore. This amount will only be enough for basic needs like vehicles, construction, etc. At least ₹5 crore must be allocated for the programs to succeed,” he added.
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Education: Holding hands with students in the post-COVID world
The abolition of NEET was one of the promises of the DMK poll. After coming to power, he passed a resolution against NEET twice; both times it was either rejected or retained by Governor RN Ravi. The DMK-led government may have received bricks for this setback, but advised the student community to prepare for NEET until the state secures an exemption. Education experts hailed the wisdom of the decision.
The TN government has also given a major push to improve the school education department. In the last state budget, the department received a whopping ₹36,000 crore to strengthen school infrastructure as public schools witnessed a sudden influx of students from private schools, due to the loss of jobs and pay cuts caused by COVID.
To bring back dropouts and refresh basic skills – reading, writing, arithmetic – before adopting regular classes, the government introduced the Illam Thédi Kalvi (“Education at the Gate”). Recently, school management committees have also been revived to strengthen public schools.
However, there are criticisms of the “mother-in-law attitude” towards government-subsidized schools, which also come under public schools. These schools receive government grants but the administration is run by private parties. Education activist PB Prince Gajendra Babu, secretary general of the State Platform for Common School System, said The Federal“Treating government-subsidized schools on an equal footing with private schools is a mistake. This kind of perception started under the last regime and continues with this regime.
According to Babu, the government is pushing assisted schools, which outnumber public schools, to become self-sufficient. “If the assisted schools were deprived of subsidies, they would be forced to close. Before the assembly elections, the youth wing of the DMK published a book called Aram Vellum. It addresses various issues related to school and education. If any of the school department officials had bothered to read this book, they would have done a better job,” Babu added.
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Women’s Empowerment: The Sweet Scent of Independence
One of the first programs launched by the current provision, which was also warmly welcomed, was free bus travel for women. About 60% of day laborers in the state are women, and women make significant contributions to the state economy. Therefore, the free bus ride program has become a boost for working women. The program is expected to increase women’s participation in the labor force.
Second, 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.
Third, the former Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Memorial Marriage Assistance Scheme became the Moovalur Ramamirtham Ammaiyar Higher Education Assurance Scheme. Under the previous program, girls who had completed their schooling received financial assistance during their marriage.
Under the revamped scheme, all female students in grades 6-12 in public schools receive ₹1,000 per month directly credited to their bank accounts. This continues uninterrupted until they complete their undergraduate, diploma or ITI courses. This program was announced in a context of very low enrollment of girls in public schools in higher education. It is expected that nearly 6 lakh female students will benefit from this program every year. By modifying the existing regime, the government has sent the subtle signal that education is more important to a woman than marriage.
B Jeeva Sundari, labor activist and author, said The Federal that the programs launched by this government have liberated women and reduced their dependence on others. “For example, day laborers are now able to save a considerable amount of money for travel,” she said, adding that similarly, by modifying the Moovalur Ramamirutham scheme, the government has essentially given girls the choice to marry or remain unmarried.
“Now if a girl is educated and well placed in a good career, she can decide how much gold she wants to buy for her wedding. She doesn’t need to depend on her family,” Jeeva Sundari said.