The ubiquitous “AMMA” brand that grabbed the attention of the entire country and made Tamil Nadu proud is slowly losing its sheen. The late former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa did launch several welfare schemes with fanfare and pride under the brand name “AMMA”, as she was revered by the people of Tamil Nadu as “AMMA”.
The flagship scheme, AMMA Unavagam (Amma Canteen) launched in 2013, which was an instant success and propelled her greater fame to be etched in the history of Tamil Nadu on par with her Mentor and former late chief minister M G Ramachandran’s “Mid Day Meal Scheme” for school children launched in 1982.
The scheme was hugely popular that many state government replicated it across the country. Besides Amma Canteen, Amma Drinking Water and Amma Pharmacy were launched. These schemes not only touched the lives of the poor and over all benefitted millions of people of Tamil Nadu. On the other side these popular schemes benefitted both Jayalalithaa as well as the AIADMK party as the most successful mass branding exercise in the country. With jayalalithaa’s image on everything that is essential for living from salt to bottled water available either free or at heavily subsidised costs, brand “AMMA” was immensely successful.
It is no doubt that the “Amma” welfare schemes are creative and the former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was eager to implement the welfare schemes to serve lakhs of poor people daily. The schemes have indeed benefited a lot of people. There is an impressive list of goods and services that Jayalalithaa launched as the chief minister of the state from 2011 to 2016 which have all resulted in making her brand “AMMA” a phenomenal success and took her to an exalted position among the people of Tamil Nadu. The schemes under the Brand AMMA made headlines across the country. Brand AMMA gave the right impetus for Jayalalithaa to overshadow her political rivals and catapulted her to be the undisputable queen of Tamil Nadu.
Called Amma Unavagam (Canteen), these canteens are a lifeline for not only the poor people but also catered to thousands of middle class people as well. Food served in these canteens are cheap and also nutritious and hygienic.
Called Amma Kudineer (Drinking Water), these one litre water bottles priced at Rs 10, half the price of other branded packaged water, are available at interstate bus stops have been very popular among commuters. This water is manufactured by the state’s transport department at its plant in Gummidipoondi
Amma Uppu (Salt) is the most subsidised salt produced by Tamil Nadu Salt Corporation. Amma Salt came in three varieties. The refined free flow variety was priced at Rs 10, at half the market price of other salt brands. The double fortified variety for Rs 21 per kg. The low sodium variety was priced at Rs 25 per kg.
Amma Marunthagam (Pharmacy) is a master stroke by Jayalalithaa as these pharmacies provided cheap medicines at a time when pharma companies were selling lifesaving drugs at exorbitant profits. With medicines sold at a third of their market price, this scheme served as a boon to people with no medical insurance.
Despite their limited reach, these became an instant hit among the poor and were one of the reasons Reports suggest this not only helped people but also forced some drug stores to reduce the prices of essential medicines to avoid losing their business.
Unlike the other Amma brands, perhaps Amma Mixer/ Grinder/Table Fan bearing Jayalalithaa’s image is aimed at vote bank. These appliances permeated every poor Tamil household. More than 10 million families were handed a package that consisted of these three appliances.
In the recent times Amma Canteen the flagship scheme, managed by the Chennai Corporation has been witnessing a sizable a reduction of customers, more than 40% in the number of beneficiaries The Amma schemes initiated by the Chennai Corporation in the past few years are on the decline. Statistics reveal that the patronage to Amma Canteens have drastically comedown and it is estimated the number of beneficiaries has reduced from 3.5 lakh per day to 1.8 lakh per day. Accordingly the number of idlis and chappatis and the number of plates of rice have also reduced drastically everyday from lakhs to thousands.
The flagship welfare scheme of Jayalalithaa, “Amma Unavagam” , now provides food at subsidised rate for only 1.8 lakh people. According to data from the Chennai city corporation, the supplies have come down by 60 per cent less than last year. The reduction is not because of quality which remains the same but lack of supply.
Similarly, the Amma Kudineer scheme has also failed to offer services to all the beneficiaries because of various glitches. Chennai Corporation has commissioned Amma drinking water supply units in 49 locations as against the original 100 outlets. As a result the government is unable to keep up its promise of providing each families 20 litres of drinking water per day free of cost to the poor residents However, most of the 18 lakh poor residents are yet to get water supply.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in a report on the local bodies, pointed out the increasing fiscal strain on Chennai corporation caused by Amma Unavagam and other Amma brand welfare schemes. According to the report, the expenditure incurred by Amma canteens for the year 2014-2015 touched a whopping Rs 110 crore. The other Amma schemes run by Chennai corporation, like the Amma drinking water and Amma pharmacy, are also on the decline.
The increase in expenditure on these welfare schemes has lead to the severe funds crunch for the Chennai Corporation resulting in widening the deficit. It is estimated that the Chennai Corporation was incurring a loss of Rs 5 lakh a day, as average daily expenses were at Rs 14 lakh and the average daily revenue was at Rs 9 lakh.
It is learned that due to the recurring losses, the Chennai corporation has not settled the dues worth several crores since November 2016, to the Triplicane Urban Cooperative Society (TUCS), which supplies vegetables and provisions for 400-odd Amma Unavagam in Chennai. TUCS had signed an agreement with the Chennai corporation for supplying raw materials to the Amma canteens. Owing to cash crunch the Chennai corporation is mulling over a proposal to reduced the canteens by half.
The Amma Kudineer scheme is also on the path of failure. Besides Amma Kudineer, Amma Marunthagam, too, have been hit. Due to fund crunch, several other schemes like the Amma theatre and Amma market are yet to take off. Through Amma Theatres, Jayalalithaa has palnned to offer luxury viewing of a cinema at a subsidised rate of Rs 10. The Amma Markets, which were supposed to be launched in 200 locations across the city, looks like to have been deferred now.
On the other hand, schemes like Amma Baby Care Kit, which were launched by Jayalalithaa at a cost of Rs 67 crore in 2015, continues, but at a slow pace. The AIADMK government led by Jayalalithaa, till September last year, had spent close to Rs 7700 crore for all these welfare schemes and distributing freebies.
Ever since the Amma brand of canteens started, there were voices of concern from the financial experts and economists that it will result in a huge strain on the fiscal budget of the Chennai Corporation. Expectedly. the state’s debt burden has gone up from Rs 1.05 lakh-crore to Rs 2.18 lakh-crore in the past five years.
With acute cash crunch, the Chennai corporation is finding it very difficult to continue to fund these welfare projects. Moreover, because of the cash crunch the Chennai corporation is not able to divert funds for other infrastructure projects and they have been put on hold.
On the other side, the fact remains that the initiatives taken under the Amma brand of welfare schemes, AIADMK has earned a lot of goodwill. So, the AIADMK government under Edappadi K. Palanisamy, is not keen on closing the Amma Canteens as the government is afraid about the ramifications of such a move. At present with the government itself on a shaky wicket due to severe infighting and factional ward, it is not worried about the loss, but would like to continue to run the welfare schemes.
But the regulatory mechanism for such type of welfare schemes need to be monitored and strengthened frequently. The fact remains that politics and the influence of political parties have a greater impact on such welfare schemes. With the current crisis that has engulfed AIADMK, after Jayalalithaa’s death, has brought in more instability which has resulted in lack of governance.
While AIADMK would like to continue to survive through the slew of “AMMA” branded products and services, but with the existing schemes on the decline, the Tamil Nadu government is staring at brand erosion after Jayalalithaa’s demise.