Social schemes of DMK party take wings, hopes abound

Results of the Lok Sabha election on June 4 can be a referendum on the performance of the state government in the last 3 years
Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin's Breakfast Scheme which was launched for students in Class 1 to 5 in government schools.
Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin's Breakfast Scheme which was launched for students in Class 1 to 5 in government schools.

CHENNAI: The DMK government completes three years amid the long limbo between the state going to the polls for the Lok Sabha elections on April 19 and results on June 4, with the model code of conduct still in force. For the DMK, the parliamentary elections act as an interim referendum on its governance ahead of the Assembly elections in 2026.

The results will allow the party to gauge the veracity of the allegations of anti-incumbency flung against it during the recent poll campaign and course correct as needed. For its part, the DMK’s campaign relied on positioning itself in ideological opposition to the BJP while touting its flagship schemes. The impact of the schemes the DMK has rolled out over the past three years cannot be ignored, even by its detractors, and this is what the party hopes to have held it in good stead at the hustings.

Investing in women

After MK Stalin assumed office as chief minister on May 7, 2021, among the first announcements was of the ‘Vidiyal Payanam’ scheme, offering free travel to women in government buses, which was extended to trans persons as well. Studies done by the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission and the Consumer and Civic Action Group show that women have been able to save between Rs 400 and Rs 1,000 a month, which they are able to use for health or education-related expenses.

Over 440 crore free trips have been made by women since the introduction of the scheme and the state has offered more than Rs 6,700 crore as subsidies to the transport corporations for its implementation. The scheme is not without complaints as commuters alleged that the transport corporations have reduced the number of ordinary services of buses, in which the scheme can be availed. The government, however, has refuted this charge.

The Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thittam, through which Rs 1,000 is provided as assistance to eligible women heads of families, is another scheme targeted at women, which has had significant social, economic and political impact. A key electoral promise of the DMK, the government only managed to roll out the scheme two years after assuming office. The scheme, which initially covered a little more than 1 crore women, now has 1.15 crore beneficiaries.

Nonetheless, the government has faced criticism for introducing an eligibility criteria despite the DMK’s electoral promise that all families will be covered. The party, on the other hand, blamed the BJP-led union government for its “discriminatory” attitude in financial allocation, which has put the state’s finances under stress. During the Lok Sabha election campaign of several DMK leaders, an oft-heard request from women was to be included in the scheme. The DMK, in turn, appealed to the people to vote for the INDIA bloc so the scheme can be continued and extended.

Feeding children

One scheme of the DMK government that has received almost unconditional praise is the Chief Minister’s Breakfast Scheme which was launched for students in Class 1 to 5 in government schools. In this year’s budget, the scheme was extended to government-aided schools in rural areas. Aside from relieving working mothers’ of the stress of making a healthy meal and alleviating the hunger of the children, a study by the State Planning Commission found the scheme had resulted in marked improvement in attendance levels as well as aptitude levels of the student.

In the 1,543 government schools in which it was initially rolled out, 1,319 schools showed a marked increase in attendance. Seen as a concrete intervention with wider benefits on the public health and education front, there is demand to extend the scheme to government-aided schools in urban areas as well. Acknowledging the benefits, the opposition AIADMK has claimed credit for the scheme, stating that it tried to introduce it initially in partnership with a private organisation.

‘Everything for everyone’

Stalin’s definition of his touted ‘Dravidian’ model of governance is that everything should be accessible to everyone. To this end, the party launched the Makkalai Thedi Maruthuvam scheme which takes healthcare to the doorstep of the residents with a focus on prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as diabetes.

Seeing access to education, especially for women, as the silver bullet for development, the DMK converted the patriarchal ‘gold for marriage’ assistance scheme into a monthly support for girls from government schools enrolled in higher education. The scheme is credited with increasing enrolment in colleges by 34% and was extended to boys as well in the recent budget. Given that education alone does not ensure education, the state also launched a skilling programme for college students called Naan Mudhalvan.

While the implementation of these schemes have further strained the finances of the State, Stalin, in a recent interview to TNIE, said, “These are not merely expenditures. We look at it as investments in the state’s overall growth.”

Flagship schemes

Some of the schemes the Dravidian major takes pride in are the free bus ride scheme, the `1,000 monthly honorarium scheme and the breakfast scheme for schoolkids from class 1 to 5

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