A model for development

Print edition : October 07, 2005

Led by a proactive district administration, Kancheepuram grows into a showcase district of Tamil Nadu in terms of development.

The Varadharaja Swamy Temple.-

KANCHEEPURAM, 70 km from Chennai with a population of about 28 lakhs, has been adjudged the best district of Tamil Nadu by the State government for the second successive year for having surpassed all the targets set by it. This is not surprising given the involvement of District Collector R. Venkatesan, who brushes the honour off with humility: "This is an opportunity to do good to the people, and, in the process, also develop the district. I only play a catalytic role in this."

Conversations with the Collector, some of the beneficiaries of various welfare programmes and a cross-section of residents of the district, reveal how the schemes were designed innovatively and implemented transparently. The process of selecting a beneficiary, identifying the areas to implement a welfare programme, and fixing the amount a beneficiary is entitled to, is done by a committee and a sub-committee - a mechanism that ensures transparency and objectivity.

Little wonder that Kancheepuram has surpassed government-set targets under the 20-point programme, which covers development activities such as providing assistance to those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (S.Cs and S.Ts), providing land to the poor, immunising children, planting trees, helping people produce and use biogas, giving financial assistance to needy women, eradicating child labour and providing education to children freed from bonded labour.

The district has done well in various rural development programmes by providing infrastructural facilities and implementing anti-poverty programmes. Under the Indira Awas Yojana, 4,500 houses were constructed last year for Dalits and the Most Backward Classes. The district has been adjudged the best in implementing the Sampoorna Rozgar Yojana, which aims to provide employment to the rural poor and create common assets by taking up public works such as laying of rural roads, desilting tanks and building schools.

Realising that water supply is fundamental to life and livelihood systems, the district administration gives a lot of importance to schemes such as the Sector Reforms Project (SRP). In 2003-04, it spent Rs.30 crores to ensure continuous, sustained and daily supplies to 600 habitations in the rural areas.

In this district, funds from the Member of the Legislative Assembly Constituency Development Scheme and the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Programme have been utilised to develop rural infrastructure. In the past two years, by dovetailing various projects, the district administration has laid over 1,000 km of pucca roads in the rural areas.

The district has excelled in the anti-poverty schemes as well. For instance, there are 17,000 women's self-help groups (SHGs) in Kancheepuram - the highest in a Tamil Nadu district. Last year, 4,500 groups were linked with banks. The banks either lend money to the SHGs directly based on their savings or provides the loan, and the administration grants a subsidy.

The subsidy-cum-loan programme operates primarily under two schemes - the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarazkar Yojana (SGSY), which is for the poor, and the Tamil Nadu Adi Dravida Housing Development Corporation (TAHDCO), which is exclusively for Dalits. Under the SGSY and the TAHDCO schemes, a revolving fund of Rs.25,000 at nominal rates of interest is provided to the SHGs - comprising the district administration's Rs.10,000 and the bank's loan of Rs.15,000. This, according to Venkatesan, has to a large extent broken the hold of the local moneylenders. For example, in the weaver-dominated Pillaiyarpalayam village, where local moneylenders for long had people under their thumbs, Punjab National Bank alone has provided a loan of Rs.2.5 crores to 600 SHGs. This has freed several families from the grip of the usurious moneylenders, and, in most cases, their bondage has been broken.

The subsidy-cum-loan scheme also provides the SHGs with economic assistance ranging from Rs.1 lakh to Rs.3 lakhs. The district administration has introduced some innovative schemes under this programme. Last year, it grew fodder on 10 acres of land located in seven places, formed milk societies in seven SHGs. The societies were linked up with the State government's Aavin Milk Society for supply of milk. The administration allotted shops at a nominal monthly rent of Rs.100 to SHG members to sell their products.

In Thirumangalam-Kandigai village near Sunkuvarchathiram, the district administration has constructed work sheds at a cost of Rs.10 lakhs for women who do exquisite embroidery work on fabric. Their products are bought by wholesale merchants from the cities for export. Nearly 15,000 women who are skilled in embroidery have benefited.

Last year, 4,500 SHGs benefited from all the government schemes. Venkatesan said: "The target is raised for us every year. So, this year the target is to help 5,000 SHGs."

Under the District Collector's discretionary quota (in TAHDCO), Rs.24 lakhs was disbursed as `grant' last year through a transparent, fool-proof system. It drew up a list of priority groups, giving priority to women. The choice was then narrowed down to widows, above 45 years and physically handicapped. Within this group again, three categories were granted money - Rs.8,000 (for milch animals), Rs.5,000 (goat rearing) and Rs.4,000 (petty trade). To make the selection process transparent and objective, each of the district's 683 villages was considered, through the Arivoli (literacy movement) centres. No one, including the District Collector, could influence the process. Venkatesan said: "This year's grant of Rs.24 lakhs has already come in. But I have demanded another Rs.24 lakhs to step up help to the needy."

The success of the schemes is primarily because of their transparent implementation. According to Venkatesan, every scheme is implemented through a carefully chosen sub-committee. Even the banks that grade women's SHGs to provide them loans use a standard evaluation format. These parameters, which include savings amount, regular conduct of meetings, regular attendance of members and maintenance of registers and minutes of the meetings, are set by the Women's Development Corporation. The district administration's role is confined to releasing the subsidy component and making sure the banks disburse the loans on time. Anyone can scrutinise the system any time. There is no room for any interference, even political, in this system of implementation. The District Collector said: "In a few years we can see the impact of all this on the field."

Though the target for the small savings scheme is high, Kancheepuram is ranked third in the State after Chennai and Coimbatore. In 2004-05, the net target was Rs.250 crores. This year, the target is Rs.280 crores. Every year, when the target is achieved, a higher target is set for the next year. According to Venkatesan, one of the main reasons for the success is the appointment last year of 1,300 new agents for collection in the villages.

IN 2004-05, under the auspices of the District Blindness Control Society (DBCS), free cataract operations were performed on 36,234 persons (against the target of 27,000) in the district through both private and government doctors. Private facilities are given Rs.600 an operation from the DBCS, which gets funds from the Central and State governments. The coverage at the all-India level is 750 for every lakh people, but in Kancheepuram district it is 1,259. Regular camps are conducted in the rural areas and those requiring a surgery are brought to the hospital, dropped back at home after the surgery and regular follow-ups are also done. Not one case has failed.

Last year, the district administration spent Rs.32 lakhs to provide assistance to 3,752 disabled people. Every month, the administration conducts a camp to identify the disabled. With a success rate of 99.7 per cent, the district was also first in the family planning programme last year.

Under the Comprehensive Wasteland Development Programme, the district converted 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) into cultivable land. The administration formed 19 watersheds, provided seedlings and imparted training to the local people in converting the wasteland into cultivable land. Touted as a successful model, this is being followed by the other districts in the State. This year, the target has been doubled and 10,000 acres have been covered under this scheme and 30 watersheds formed.

The district has also done well in the tsunami rehabilitation work. About 3,700 houses are being constructed for those affected by the December 26, 2004, devastation. All livelihood rehabilitation work - dry groceries for four months, Rs.4,000 a family for temporary sheds, compensation for the damaged boats and nets and so on - has already been completed. The local non-governmental organisations were involved in the house construction work.

ONE of the largest industrial areas of Tamil Nadu, Kancheepuram district is the production base for major global industrial groups. It also has many export houses in and around the Madras Export Processing Zone. The product range from factories in Kancheepuram is extensive: cars (Hyundai of South Korea and Ford Motors of the United States); auto parts (Sona Steering, Rane-TRW restraint systems, DAEWHA, Brakes India and AUDCO); float glass (Saint Gobain of France); air-conditioners (National of Japan); leather industries in Pallavaram, near Chennai; Information Technology units on the Information Technology Highway (TCS, Cognizant, Infosys, Wipro Infotech and so on); sugar (Madurantakam Cooperative Sugar Mills at Padalam and S.V. Sugars at Palayaseevaram); fashion garments (at the Madras Export Processing Zone and in the surrounding areas); pharmaceuticals, chemicals and dyes (Orchid Chemicals, Maruti Marine, White House Dyes and Kanchi Karpooram); dyes and forgings (Fomas); optic fibres (Fujikura-TTL at Maraimalainagar), and so on.

S.N. Venkatesan, District Collector of Kancheepuram.-

The district administration actively promotes industries. Three taluks - Tambaram, Chengalpattu and Sriperumpudur - are the major industrial areas. Almost all the big names in the IT sector have set up shop in Tambaram taluk. The State government has started work on a 20-km, six-lane IT corridor (from the Madhya Kailash traffic junction (in Chennai) to Siruseri) of this, 17 km are in Kancheepuram district. To attract the IT industries, the administration is building and providing infrastructural facilities such as power, water, sewerage and roads.

At the SIPCOT industrial estate in Sriperumpudur, several multinationals, including Nokia, Saint Gobain (already into the second phase) and Hyundai (also in the second phase) and ancillary units, have set up shop. In Maraimalainagar, on NH45, the Mahindra Industrial Park Limited (MIPL) has begun a massive project on 1,300 acres (520 ha). Mahindra's idea is to develop this as a special economic zone (SEZ). Companies such as Infosys, which has bought 100 acres in the first phase, are setting up shop inside the MIPL. BMW is also to set up its assembly plant here.

According to Venkatesan, more than 50 ancillary units are functioning between Vandalur and Kelambakkam offering job opportunities to non-IT professionals. This also explains the increase in polytechnic institutes in the district.

The reasons for the industrial development in the district, according to the District Collector, are its proximity to Chennai, and to the international airport and two sea ports (at Chennai and Ennore), excellent connectivity through the East Coast Road, the upgraded NH4 and NH45, good industrial parks at Maraimalainagar, Alathur, Irungattukottai, Sriperumpudur, Siruseri, Oragadam and Paranur, reasonably good power supply ensured by the North Madras Power Station and Kalpakkam Atomic Power Station, and the availability of skilled and highly qualified manpower in Chennai and its suburbs.

THE district has 63 engineering colleges, three private medical colleges and a number of polytechnics. The Meenakshi Academy of Higher Education and Research (MAHER), for instance, is one of the institutions that have brought development to the district. MAHER, administered by the Meenakshi Ammal Trust, was set up in 1983. It has under its wings medical, dental, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, engineering, management, arts and science, and polytechnic colleges. While the colleges function on different campuses, the Meenakshi Medical College and Research Institute in Enathur near Kancheepuram, operates on a 39-acre campus with a built-up area of more than 5 lakh sq ft. Operating with 500 beds, the hospital attached to the medical college, has well-equipped operating theatres and modern testing facilities, including a whole body CT scanner and a 24-hour laboratory. Apart from a well-stocked library, the college has a museum with specimens and study models of hard and soft tissues and various human organs. To cater to the poor, the institution also runs a 150-bed general hospital. It also has a unit for cleft lip and palate treatment under the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery.

THEN, of course, there is the traditional silk weaving industry for which Kancheepuram town is known the world over. The silk weaving industry, with a turnover of Rs.200 crores, has spread to other areas around Kancheepuram town and Tiruvannamalai and Vellore districts. While the 22 silk weaving societies are doing well, with many of the big ones running profitably, the cotton weavers are barely managing to survive. The weavers, particularly the private loom owners, are asking for a wage revision. According to the District Collector, tripartite talks are on among the owners, the weavers and the district administration, and the wage issue will be resolved soon.

The district administration, which has started a campaign to root out bondage and child labour, offers education to those rescued through `Nilavoli' schools. Last year, it rescued about 2,500 children from bonded labour. Under an India-U.S. project to rehabilitate child labourers, 1,800 children have been freed from bondage and put in 60 transitional educational centres. The project, being implemented in four States and 20 districts, has had best results in Kancheepuram. This model is also being considered for replication elsewhere in the country.

At the Thiruvalluvar Co-operative Society outlet in Kancheepuram.-

The administration has booked 100 cases against erring loom owners under the Child Labour Act. First, the district administration appealed to the owners to do away with child labour within a timeframe. After the lapse of the deadline, it filed first information reports against them. Venkatesan said: "The State government wants the district to be child labour-free by the end of this year. We are moving towards that." He has formed 19 teams, comprising representatives from the Labour, Revenue, Health and Police departments, to inspect and release children from workplaces.

Kancheepuram district is also being developed as a tourist centre. According to the District Collector, Rs.20 crores is being spent on Mamallapuram, one of the most important tourist places in South India. Construction of storm water drains and roads are under way primarily to promote the district as a tourist centre. Venkatesan said: "Kancheepuram's closeness to Chennai is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Tourists make it a point to come here, but do not stay as they prefer to return to Chennai." Kancheepuram attracts a lot of day tourists, much to the chagrin of the service providers and the district administration.

The flip side of all this development is the rising cost of land. Land prices have soared four-five times in the past year and are rising. The density of population is also rising, especially as parts of the district form Chennai's suburbs. In the face of high land costs, soaring house rents and traffic problems in Chennai, people are increasingly moving to these suburbs. These reasons apart, Kancheepuram also offers employment opportunities, particularly with the on-going IT boom. This has led to a rise in the population in the district.

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