The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jaya scraps free-meal scheme

Chennai, Feb. 3: Wrapping off several important announcements with the strongest-ever critique of the DMK and the Congress, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa has scrapped the free-meal scheme for the families of drought-hit landless farmers and substituted it with a free-rice scheme.

Under this scheme, each affected family will get 30 kg of rice every month.

Till last week, over 12.11 lakh landless farmers and their family members had registered under the free-meal scheme, launched from January 15. Several farmers lost “samba” crops this year, particularly in the Cauvery delta districts, because of Karnataka’s refusal to release Cauvery waters.

Under the free-meal scheme, the utilisation rate across the state was 83 per cent, Jayalalithaa said, adding that, however, there were practical problems in reaching meal centres at noon.

Replying to a debate on the Governor’s address in the Assembly, Jayalalithaa said the government was open to “constructive suggestions” from farmers’ representatives and political parties.

All those farmers’ families who have registered themselves under the free-meal scheme can collect free rice in two instalments from fair price shops, Jayalalithaa said, adding that that coupons will be given out immediately.

This scheme has been combined with a massive food-for-work programme in all districts except Chennai, she said.

The government had declared 28 of the 29 districts drought-hit a few days ago, the chief minister said.

Jayalalithaa said the central team inspecting the drought-hit areas will be given a fresh memorandum urging the BJP-led NDA government to provide a drought relief assistance of Rs 2027.53 crore, including compensation to farmers for loss of crops and nine lakh tonnes of rice to the state to help implement the food-for-work programme.

Referring to the recent Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority and the Construction Industry Development Board of Malaysia for a detailed feasibility study to build a “new administrative city” near Mamallapuram, Jayalalithaa said the process would take a few years — the construction after mobilisation of funds could take up to 25 years.

However, she said, a “new secretariat complex” will be built in Chennai in two years facing the Marina sea front. The decision was taken as there is a severe space crunch at Fort St. George, where the present complex is housed.

Almost the entire Opposition, barring the BJP, boycotted today’s House proceedings, protesting against the suspension of former DMK deputy Speaker Paruthi Ilamvazhuthi for the entire budget session. But an undeterred Jayalalithaa launched an attack on the DMK and Congress leadership, particularly DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, his son M.K. Stalin and Congress leader S.R. Balasubramoniyan.

Slamming the Opposition for failing to perform its democratic duty in the Assembly, Jayalalithaa harped on the DMK’s “leadership crisis”.

If Karunanidhi, as per his recent pronouncement, was to give preference to literature over politics, then why was he holding on to his MLA seat and the top party post, the ADMK president demanded to know. She also took a dig at the DMK for “running away” from the Sathankulam byelection.

Jayalalithaa said Balasubramoniyan should be more humble. “Talent is God given, be humble; Fame is man-given, be thankful; Conceit is self-given, be careful,” she advised him, quoting a poem.

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