In an earlier post, I wrote a bit about the Noon Meals Scheme in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This program happens to be the largest of the many, many social schemes operating in the state today. Because much of my research on Noon Meals involved meeting TN government officials and program officers, I also picked up a great deal of information on some of the other, more recently instituted schemes. Here are some of the more interesting ones:
Televisions for the Poor: As part of a large set of campaign promises, the DMK party promised free TVs for poor and near-poor households all over the state upon being elected. Sure enough, the DMK was voted into power and TVs are now being distributed all over the state. Some 160,000 households have received TVs so far, and the government hopes to up this number to 700,000+ in the next five years. (I may be off by an order of magnitude on the latter figure).
Quite a few people I talked to believe the whole TV bit is yet another check in a string of shameless populist promises and claims (check out this humorous piece about populist politics in TN). However, the DMK brass claims that TV's may have a number of benefits, including providing educational and cultural opportunities for women and children and inducing various parties to provide electricity to previously unconnected households in remote rural areas.
I'm a bit skeptical about the latter, but the former may not be such a stretch. A recent paper by Robert Jensen and Emily Oster suggests that the influx of cable TV, with its urban culture/sensibility slanted TV serials and commercials, may have lead to improvements in women's autonomy and position in the household, lower fertility, and higher rates of female child schooling in Indian villages. The paper is compelling and definitely a good read. I always thought stuff like "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kahbi Bahu Thi" was totally mind-numbing nonsense, so its interesting to see that good things may actually stem from its existence!
Employment Guarentee Schemes: This one is not specific to Tamil Nadu, but its interesting and something everyone I met wanted to talk about. Basically, individuals who want to work but are unable to find jobs are either given a job or provided a cash transfer while searching for a job by the government for a period of 100 days. The wage/value of the transfer currently stands at Rs 80 a day (see the flower lady post to put this in context).
Currently, the scheme is operating in some 200 districts all across India. The area of coverage should grow over the next few years, with the growth being especially rapid in Tamil Nadu. I think an interesting set of studies would be to look at the household and labor market effects of this policy. As the Yale Economic Growth Center is carrying out a large panel survey in TN starting this year, there might be ample scope to use the phased-roll out of the program to identify the effects of having an employment safety net in rural areas.
Land Distribution: Some 100,000 individuals have benefited from a scheme where previously fallow lands were distributed to previously landless farmers. The lands are distributed to groups of farmers, with the government providing capital inputs (borewells for irrigation, heavy machinery, seeds) as well as advice on agricultural practices and investment.
What is most interesting is the collective action aspect. Since the group of farmers own the land together, who makes the farming decisions, who owns the borewell, who is in charge of monitoring and remedying capital depreciation? I couldn't get a good answer from the bureaucrats about this one. Please post a comment if you have any thoughts/nuggets of knowledge regarding this scheme.