Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin is a man in a hurry. After assuming office, on May 7 he assessed the precarious Covid-19 situation in the state and opted for a bold but unpopular decision. Putting lives over livelihoods, he imposed a fortnight-long lockdown from May 10 in an attempt to break the chain in the spread of the virus.
At the first cabinet meeting on May 9, he underlined the seriousness of the situation to his colleagues in the cabinet before despatching 22 of them to 14 high prevalence districts. They will be stationed there during the lockdown to oversee all Covid-related initiatives. Continuity and change, a mix of the old and the new has been the standout feature of Stalin’s choices for his cabinet. So old warhorses like S. Durarimurugan (irrigation), K.N. Nehru (municipal administration) and I. Periyasamy (cooperatives), now in their seventies and eighties but still active, are in the mix with relative newbies like P.T.R. Palanivel Thiagarajan (finance). Duraimurugan, also the party treasurer, Nehru, Ma Subramanian (health), E.V. Velu (public works) and T.R. Baalu (Lok Sabha MP), form the core group around the chief minister. Their inputs, say analysts, would have contributed to Stalin’s choice of ministers. Significantly, 15 of the 33 ministers in his team are new faces.
Before travelling to the state secretariat, Fort St George, for the first time after the swearing-in ceremony presided over by Governor Banwarlal Purohit, Stalin cleared key papers in keeping with his pre-poll promises. Beginning May 15, the first half of the Rs 4,000 cash grant will be distributed as Covid relief to 20.7 million rice ration card holders through the public distribution system. For this, tokens are being delivered to their doorstep indicating the time and place where they can collect the grant. This will cost the exchequer over Rs 4,150 crore. The state will also meet the medical expenses of all Covid patients, even those being treated in private hospitals, through an existing insurance scheme.
In keeping with another promise, women get free rides on state transport buses in Chennai and other urban areas. This will cost the state transport corporations about Rs 1,200 crore in annual revenue. Working women and girls pursuing higher education account for around 40 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s bus passengers. Policy experts say free public transport can empower women, giving them greater access to jobs and education. Persons with disabilities and transgenders have since requested Stalin to extend them the same facility.
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