Chennai: After her one rupee piping hot idli at budget canteens, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has launched farm fresh vegetable outlets in Chennai to sell vegetable at cheap prices for the poor. 31 outlets have started functioning across Chennai. Officials from the Food and Cooperative Departments say vegetable prices would be cheaper by around 50 percent at these shops.
These outlets are air conditioned and swanky. An officer in charge of purchase told NDTV "we procure directly from farmers; we eliminate middlemen who shoot up prices and pass on benefits to customers".
NDTV attempted to put the government's claim to test. We asked two Chennaiites, Kamalam Moorthy an entrepreneur, and SP Sivakami, a yoga teacher, to buy vegetable for Rs. 200, one from this outlet and the other from a regular shop. Ms Kamalam chose Amma's outlet. She bought more than 10 items including tomatoes, chillies, onions, beans, carrots and some capsicum. A bag full, it cost her Rs 194. She said "Wow tomato, onion, capsicum, beans whatever I buy 40 percent cheap. It makes sense to buy here".
At the open market, Ms Sivakami bought almost the same items but lesser quantity to fit into her Rs. 200 budget. She says she would bid good bye to her down the street shop. She adds " The quantity what Kamalam purchased is double than what I bought. I could get only a quarter kilo in some cases for the same price".
This is what NDTV found. Tomato is sold at the government outlet for Rs 30 a kilo vs Rs 49 in the open market; Onion Rs 20 vs Rs 27; Chilly Rs 30 Vs 48; Brinjal Rs 20 Vs 33; Beans Rs 50 Vs 90 and Cabbage Rs 18 Vs 37.
Officials deny it is a poor economic model. It was a sell out on day one, the sale crossed the five lakh mark. Already the announcement has generated a buzz. A senior citizen, Professor V Chandrasekhar told NDTV "vegetable price is awful, it is like gold and for my age I consume less vegetable now. I don't know where these outlets are, but I would try".
Tamil Nadu has emerged to be India's freebies kingdom; from free colour television, mixer grinder, fan and laptops. Lok Sabha elections are due next year and the ruling AIADMK is facing public wrath on power shortage and price rise. Clearly it appears to be populism and less economics before elections. But well informed people ask, is the government doing enough to raise the income of the poor so that they could take care of themselves.