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Running around in circles for Jayalalithaa's freebies

By A Ganesh Nadar
November 12, 2011 11:39 IST

No one in the Tamil Nadu government really seems to know much about its flagship freebie scheme, discovers A Ganesh Nadar

The Tamil Nadu government has begun a massive exercise to keep one of its most ambitious poll promises made to the electorate. It is going to distribute a mixer, a grinder and a fan to every household in the state absolutely free of cost.

When we tried to find out exactly how the state government was carrying out the exercise, the public relations officer at the Secretariat in Chennai told us that the revenue department would have an idea about who was in charge of distributing the freebies.

The revenue department told us that a special department, headed by retired IAS officer A Paneerselvam, was looking after the scheme. Paneerselvam had not arrived at the Secretariat even at 11 am.
We were asked to speak to the additional director of the department -- one Dr K Radhakrishnan -- who turned out to be extremely rude.

To a query about how they were distributing the freebies, his terse response was, "With our hands". He refused to answer any further questions and directed us to another additional director in the next cabin.

The peon told us that the other additional director had gone to meet Paneerselvam. No one knew where either of them were.

We were then asked to speak to Under Secretary Muthupandi, who explained the salient features to of the scheme, without going into the details.

This year, the state government was going to distribute freebies to 25 lakh households. The first benefactors would be residents of the village with the smallest population.  In urban areas, the wards with the smallest population would be the starting point.

The freebies are only for those who buy rice with their ration cards. Those who use their ration cards to buy oil and sugar are not eligible for this scheme. All the three freebies will be handed over together.

The three freebies will be given to a whopping 1 crore 85 lakh households over five years. The freebies have been bought after issuing global tenders. One of the clauses of the tender says that the supplier must have a service centre in every taluka in the state.

All the districts in the state will receive freebies in certain villages this year. The goods
have been purchased from multiple suppliers.

Sri Lankan refugees are being considered for this scheme but the state government is yet to give a final nod for that.

I was told that I should talk to Paneerselvam, so I waited outside his office for an hour-and-a-half. Finally, when I met him, all he had to say was, "Please meet Shivdas Meena. He is the secretary of this department.

Shivdas Meena told us that he had already given instructions to the commercial department to implement the scheme and now they were in the process of implementing it. He would give me the details about the scheme and I could also check the government website if I wanted.

At another government office at Elilagam, the concerned official -- Commissioner Desikan -- was on leave. Swaran Singh, the commissioner for land reforms, was in charge.

For questions concerning freebies, I had to wait in another room because the one I was earlier in was meant to deal with the issue of land reform.

I sat in that special room for an hour but Swaran Singh didn't turn up.

A clerk told me, "We are only distributing. The purchasing is done by the Tamil Nadu Civil Society".

So if I needed details, I should approach them, I was told.

Then he suggested that I go meet the assistant commissioner in the same department who sat on the third floor!

A Ganesh Nadar