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Jaya does what Mamata won’t

Chennai, Nov. 17: If Mamata Banerjee is looking for a formula to make an unavoidable diet less unpalatable, J. Jayalalithaa has tossed up one in a milk bottle and beamed it on television.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister today set the stage for increases in milk prices, power tariffs and bus fares, saying she was forced “to turn to the people” because the Centre had “ditched” the state.

Milk prices, power tariffs and bus fares are also the holy cows the lady in the east has so far refused to touch. But she has made a beginning by sending a loud warning to the Centre on price rise.

Now Jayalalithaa has shown how criticism of the Centre can be used to justify what needs to be done to generate revenue something the Mamata government also sorely needs.

Jayalalithaa has cited “financial assistance” from the Centre for Bengal to buttress her claim of bias.

“While cold-shouldering our request for special economic assistance to Tamil Nadu, the Centre has sanctioned financial assistance of Rs 21,614 crore to the Bengal government only because it is part of the UPA coalition,” the chief minister said as she announced the increases on Jaya TV.

The Centre has not yet announced any special package for Bengal. The figure Jayalalithaa mentioned comes close to Bengal’s annual plan allocation.

Jayalalithaa this time displayed her famed leadership qualities by choosing the television address to directly convey the tough decisions to the people rather than resorting to late-night media releases, like her government had done while raising value-added tax three months ago.

She urged the people to accept the hikes for the larger good of the state. “When the Centre has ditched us, to who else can I turn other than the people of this state to revive its economy?” Jayalalithaa asked during the 20-minute address.

The other numbers Jayalalithaa cited made it clear why a power tariff increase is unavoidable and how the situation is almost similar to that in Bengal.

Jayalalithaa said the electricity board had accumulated losses of Rs 40,659 crore and debts of Rs 42,175 crore, which had prompted the RBI to ask banks not to lend to the entity.

As in other states, the Tamil Nadu regulatory commission will set the quantum of the power tariff hike.

On milk, consumers of Aavin, the state co-operative milk federation, will have to pay Rs 24 a litre, an increase of Rs 6.25. Jayalalithaa said the increase, the steepest in years, was to meet rising costs.

In Bengal, where milk rates hover between Rs 12 and Rs 15, Mamata had turned down demands from state-run dairies for an increase of Rs 2 in June.

Bus fares will go up by Re 1 to Rs 5 in Tamil Nadu. State transport corporations are reeling from losses of Rs 6,150 crore.

The chief minister blamed mismanagement by the previous DMK government for her state’s ills another parallel with Bengal where the erstwhile Left regime is widely held responsible for the mess.

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