The DMK patriarch was a pioneer in reforming governance in Tamil Nadu. Here are three of his most notable schemes
(From left to right: DMK leaders K A Mathialagan, V P Raman, C N Annadurai and M Karunanidhi (far right) with Swatantara Party founder C Rajagopalachari in January 1968 Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Muthuvel Karunannidhi, the man who dominated the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Tamil Nadu for more than 5 decades, was usually known for his contributions to the fields of literature, poetry, cinema and culture. What is not usually known is that the DMK colossus launched several schemes for the welfare of the people of Tamil Nadu during his 5 term-reign.
One of his foremost legacies is Samathuvapuram, which means “Equality Village” in English. The scheme was officially called Periyar Ninaivu Samathuvapuram (Periyar Memorial Equality Village). It envisaged a housing complex where all communities could live without any discrimination and have equal access to civic facilities.
The scheme was launched by Karunanidhi after caste clashes erupted between the landholding Thevar community and Dalits in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu in 1997.
Under the scheme, each equality village was to have 100 houses each, subdivided into 40 houses for Dalits, 25 houses for Backward Castes, 25 houses for Most Backward Castes, and 10 for other communities.
The first samathuvapuram was inaugurated by Karunanidhi on August 17, 1998 in the Melakottai village near Tirumangalam, Madurai. Each house was built at a cost of Rs 35,000 each. The title deeds for the plots were in the names of women, ensuring empowerment for them.
To avoid caste discrimination, the Samathuvapuram would have one community hall for all communities, as well as a common burial ground. Beneficiaries had to give in writing that they would not install religious statues in the housing complex, not to sell the houses for 15 years, not to give the houses on rent, not to consume alcohol and to keep the place clean. Violating any of these conditions meant that the government would take back the house from the beneficiary.
By 2001, 145 samathuvapurams were opened across Tamil Nadu.
Following the change in the state government in 2001, the scheme was abandoned. In 2006, the scheme was revived after M Karunanidhi returned to power. During his tenure, 95 samathuvapurams were opened state-wide.
Another landmark scheme started by Karunanidhi is the comprehensive health insurance scheme for the poor. Termed the “Kalaignar Kappeetu Thittam”, the scheme was conceived and launched in 2009 and aimed at providing health insurance to low income groups, allowing them to access high quality surgical and diagnostic care in empanelled hospitals. This allowed people to access emergency medical care wherever available, and not merely at government hospitals. At least three in five people in Tamil Nadu have medical insurance due to this scheme, which was rechristened the Chief Minister’s Health Insurance Scheme in 2012 by Karunanidhi’s arch-rival J Jayalalithaa. More than 1 crore families in the state with an annual income of Rs 72,000 benefited from the scheme when it was launched by Karunanidhi. All members of welfare boards in the state automatically became beneficiaries, with their dependants being covered too. Each family was covered for benefits up to Rs 1 lakh for certain procedures in private hospitals and pay wards in government hospitals. Today, Tamil Nadu is also one of the best performing states in terms of implementing reproductive and child health schemes.
In 1999, Karunanidhi, as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, launched “Uzhavar Sandhais” (farmers’ markets) across the state, where farmers directly sell vegetables to consumers. While the “Uzhavar Sandhais” lost steam after a regime change in 2001, the DMK revived many of them in 2006, when it returned to power. Again, after 2011, some sandhais were closed, but still, a sizable number of them are functioning and offering vegetables at much cheaper price than in the retail shops.
Under the scheme, farmers had/have to get a certificate from the local Agriculture Officer that they are engaged in vegetable cultivation and show this to the officer at the Uzhavar Sandhai for them to be allocated a stall. Weighing scales are given to the farmers free of cost. In some places, electronic scales are also given. In this year’s Budget, Union Minister for Finance, Arun Jaitley announced the setting up of “Gramin Agricultural Markets” where farmers can directly market their produce, similar to the Tamil Nadu scheme.
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