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After ‘Amma’ canteens and bottled water, it’s ‘Amma’ salt now

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-06-2014 S. Bridget Leena

Chennai: Tamil Nadu plans to launch “Amma” salt—the latest initiative named after chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, who is fondly called amma (mother) by her admirers, after Amma canteens that serve a plate of idlis at Re. 1 and Amma bottled water.

Tamil Nadu Salt Corp. will start selling the branded, low-sodium salt, fortified with iron and iodine, starting on Wednesday.

The state government controlled by Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has in the past 16 months started a variety of imaginative welfare schemes under the brand ‘Amma’ with the chief minister’s picture—canteens that serve inexpensive food, outlets that sell vegetables at a 25% discount to market price and bottled water at Rs 10.

Amma tiffin centres were started in February 2013, coinciding with Jayalalithaa’s birthday, and have become popular for the idlis, sambhar rice (Rs.5 per plate) and curd rice (Rs.3) that they serve. The Chennai Corporation, which is executing the initiative, loses about Rs.5 lakh a day on the venture but has plans to expand the number of eateries almost threefold to 1,000 from 350.

These food centres are located in Chennai and in other cities such as Madurai, Coimbatore, Trichy, Salem, Tirupur, Thirunelvi, Vellore, Tuticorin and Erode.

Apart from providing affordable and healthy meals to the poor, the scheme offers an avenue for employment to women’s self-help groups who run them, said Frost and Sullivan, a consulting firm.

“A welfare scheme’s intention must be to clearly benefit the poor. When it does, there is no reason why a state should not carry it out,” said Cho Ramaswamy, a political commentator and editor of Thuglak, a Tamil weekly magazine.

“I had initially opposed former chief minister M.G Ramachandran’s mid-day meal scheme, but realized how effective it was later. However, all states do not have same condition of finances. Tamil Nadu can afford to carry out these schemes,” he added.

In June 2013, with the state transport corporation as the nodal agency, the government launched Amma mineral water across 32 districts and suburbs. Plant has been set up in Gummidipundi in Tiruvallur district to produce 300,000 litres of mineral water a day.

Jayalalithaa has justified the initiatives on grounds that persistent inflation, the rupee’s depreciation and flawed central government policies had made life tough for ordinary people.

According to Tamil Nadu’s 2013-14 budget estimates, it will spend close to Rs.45,176 crore on subsidies, up 4% from last year. These subsidies form 37.3% of the state’s revenue expenditure.

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