06 May 2016 15:40:26 IST

A long-time ‘deskie’, Baskar has spent much of his journalism career on the editorial desk. A keen follower of economic and political matters, he likes to view economic issues from a political economy lens as he believes the economic structure of a society is deeply embedded in its political and social ethos. Apart from writing the PolitEco column for BLoC, Baskar writes book reviews and articles on politics, economics and sports for the BL web edition. Reading and watching films are his other interests, though the choice of books and films are rather eclectic.  A keen follower of sports, especially his beloved Tottenham Hotspur FC, Baskar is an avid long-distance runner.  He hopes to learn music some day!

Of ‘freebies’ and welfare measures in Tamil Nadu

PMK’s chief ministerial candidate Anbumani Ramadoss (left), GK Mani and party founder S Ramadoss releasing their election manifesto in Chennai

Manifestoes may not be taken seriously but still give us a glimpse into parties’ agenda for the future

The much-awaited AIADMK manifesto was released on Thursday, and no surprises for guessing that it’s filled with freebies. Free cell phones for all ration card holders, free internet with free laptops for students, 50 per cent subsidy on scooters/mopeds bought by working women, free wifi in some public places, loan waivers for farmers and 100 units of free power for all households are some of the important measures announced. For women, the duration of maternity leave and level of assistance have been raised and they get more gold for their mangalsutra too. It’s also proposed to include breakfast with the mid-day meal scheme for school children.

The DMK, which came out with its manifesto a few days ago, has also promised smartphones for poor families, waiver of education loans for students, laptops or tablets with free internet connection for students and reduction in price of milk.

The DMK’s manifesto also has several interesting features which include a separate budget for agriculture, a separate Ministry for Irrigation, construction of 200 check dams to prevent floods, and establishment of a Lok Ayukta in Tamil Nadu.

Focus on farm sector

The PMK’s manifesto is, perhaps, the most interesting — one that is shorn of any ‘freebies’. It has a strong focus on agriculture; the party has promised a separate budget for agriculture, check dams on all key rivers of the State, solar water pumps for small and marginal farmers, 100 per cent subsidy for micro-irrigation and, interestingly, collaboration with countries such as Israel in the areas of agricultural technology and farming techniques. Now this is significant, as Israel can teach us a great deal on water conservation, dryland agriculture and drip irrigation.

The PMK also proposes to create a Right to Public Service Act to ensure time-bound delivery of services to citizens. For industry the party proposes single-window clearances of applications, creation of land banks uninterrupted power supply and subsidy for investing in the rural sector.

The PWF, led by Vijayakanth’s DMDK, has promised two acres of land for landless agriculture labourers and also the establishment of a Lok Ayukta.

Prohibition, free power

With the exception of the AIADMK, all the other parties have called for total prohibition in the State. The AIADMK wants to implement it in phases, which is perhaps a sensible way of going about it. But it will be interesting to see how this issue plays out, given that liquor is the largest revenue-earner for the State and has played a huge role in funding the freebies and welfare measures of successive governments in Tamil Nadu in the past.

The AIADMK’s promise of giving 100 units of free power will certainly put a further strain on the already stressed TNEB. Tamil Nadu is the among the few States that has adamantly stayed out of the Centre’s UDAY scheme to clean up the balance sheets of State discoms. The party has argued that the scheme is ‘anti-people’ as it will lead to a hike in power tariffs.

Now, one must be careful in distinguishing between freebies and welfare measures. Some media reports have clubbed the mid-day meal scheme with freebies, which is misleading. Midday meals in schools are a genuine welfare measure, aimed at raising the nutritional levels of poor children and ensuring better attendance in schools, whereas free TVs, grinders, mixies, etc, can be classified as freebies. Though the freebies also raise the quality of life of the poor, they are not as crucial for sustenance as the other genuine welfare measures.


Unfortunately, education is one area that has been ignored by all the parties. Though the PMK manifesto promises to enhance the quality of the Samacheer Kalvi syllabus to make it on a par with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), most other parties are silent on raising the quality of school and college education in the State. (Samacheer Kalvi was introduced to integrate and bring uniformity across the various school educational systems/boards within the State.) Though Tamil Nadu is among the States that has the highest number of engineering colleges, the quality of education is dismal as a good chunk of the engineering graduates find it difficult to get jobs.

Though it will be an exaggeration to say that people make their voting choices solely based on the manifestoes, these documents still play an important role in a democracy and give us a glimpse of the parties’ agenda for future. Now, all eyes will be on May 19 when the election results are declared.