Jaya’s pet projects take the milk cake

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Tough stance Jayalalithaa has pushed through some unpopular policies

TAMIL NADU Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s plans to usher in “another white revolution” in the state might just be the case of wrong use of terminology. The rate at which the cows distributed freely under a government scheme are dropping dead, a leather revolution instead looks imminent.

To match the free distribution of colour TV sets by former CM and DMK supremo M Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa set out to distribute free of cost, cross-bred Jersey cows to families in villages that don’t have milk co-operatives, and four goats each to seven lakh other families. The government had set aside a budget of Rs 1,157 crore to achieve this feat over a period of five years.

But probing this novel idea a little further brings out some interesting details. That the cattle will be purchased from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra is the first curious fact. States such as Andhra have been following a cattle import policy to boost their own production and Tamil Nadu is one of its suppliers.

According to the animal husbandry ministry website, Tamil Nadu has the highest population of cross-bred exotic cattle, which includes Jersey cows. A ministry official, who does not wish to be named, insists that the decision to buy cattle from outside the state was made to boost the milk production in Tamil Nadu.

To achieve this perplexing merry-goround ride of cattle repurchase and resale, the state takes the beneficiary to Andhra Pradesh to choose the cow, spending Rs 3,000 for the transport of the person and the cow. A researcher in the field of cattle claims that cattle traders from Tamil Nadu take the cows to Andhra the day before the ‘cow-selectors’ arrive, sometimes the District Collector in tow, and sell the same back to the unsuspecting villagers. Their motive: pass off a cow that has already given birth to more than 10 calves as one in its first or second lactation cycle, as laid down in the conditions of the scheme.

As a result, till date, 11 of the 50 cows procured by a village have dropped dead. Gokulakrishnan of Poolathur in Dindigul district, says that the cows the villagers brought back were already very old. “The government has promised insurance, but the money is yet to come,” he says. S Ramesh Kannan, a resident of Kumbaiyur village of the same district, says that they neither have the space to breed the cattle nor the money to feed them: “I have to spend almost Rs 100 a day to feed the cow. As a labourer, I earn only Rs 200 a day. Each cow was bought for Rs 30,000 and transportation cost came up to Rs 3,000. The cows we bought won’t even sell for Rs 10,000. We could have got two local cows here for the same price. They seem to have already given birth to more than 10 calves each and hardly give a litre of milk a day.”

Ministry officials claim that no complaints have been registered, despite this issue being covered in the local media.

A vet has to be paid Rs 300 per visit to a village, transport cost included, to treat a cow. It is an established fact that exotic breeds of cows, such as the Jersey, fall sick very often. They also don’t feed on natural fodder but eat into the human food supplies such as millet and corn.

This is not the only scheme implemented by Jayalalithaa without any debate or discussion with the Opposition since she took charge last May. The other big decision she has taken is the overnight hike in bus fares and milk prices. Perhaps she has hurried to unveil unpopular policies with an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, by which time the public might have forgotten the pinch. But some memories haunt.

Take the case of ST Manikkam, a peon at the State Bank of India, Tirunelveli district, who was told on the bus that the 14 fare from his village to his workplace (a distance of 53 km) had doubled overnight. He had slept through his bumpy ride home the previous day, with no idea about the late evening announcement by the CM. Even though the price hike in mid-November was moderated to Rs 25 by December, the rollback did not stop him from finding a job closer to home. “I used to earn Rs 5,000 at SBI. I can’t afford to spend around Rs 1,500 just on transport,” he says. Manikkam has a family to take care of and it is the least of his concerns that the State Transport Corporation is suffering losses.

It is no secret that the previous DMK government did not revise fares for fear of losing votes. But Jayalalithaa has gone the other extreme by jettisoning the more humane practice of gradual price rise. Of course, even a Rs 1 increase close to the elections would go against the party.

A hike of Rs 5 per litre in the price of the state-run Aavin milk had equal ramifications for the public. After the government increased the procurement prices as well by Rs 2, private milk producers and distributors did not spare any time in increasing their prices to match government rates.

IN HER third term, Jayalalithaa has lived up to her reputation of being ruthlessly efficient. As soon as she took office, one of her first decisions was to move out of the new Assembly complex built during the DMK regime. The move was swift, unstoppable and so far, irreversible. Soon followed a review of Samacheer Kalvi, an education scheme that sought to standardise the syllabus, putting it on the backburner.

Apart from the sporadic off-the-record responses from the ministry, no official explanation is forthcoming on queries regarding the policies. “It is the chief minister’s policy. We are here only to implement it,” is the standard answer. Bordering on mischief, but more out of fear, Jayalalithaa’s ‘faithful’ ministers and government servants alike add, “If you want information, please talk to her.” As if her Poes Garden residence, or as much as a phone line, is open to journalists.

There’s virtually no one in the government or the party who is willing to talk on record. When Tamil magazine Nakkeeran’s office was vandalised by AIADMK elements on 7 January for having published an article defaming Jayalalithaa’s Brahmin roots, or her long-time confidante Sasikala was ousted unceremoniously from her residence, or when a land case against the CM is about to reach a conclusion, there is nobody to answer probing questions.

Janani Ganesan is a Correpondent with Tehelka. 
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