“I was so happy when the bank sent the test amount of Rs 1. It means I have been selected for the scheme”, says Lakshmi V, a resident of NSC Bose Road, on being eligible to receive monthly cash assistance of Rs 1000 under the newly launched Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thogai scheme.
In the fiscal year 2023-2024, the Tamil Nadu government has taken a significant step towards women’s empowerment with the launch of the Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thogai scheme. This initiative aims to extend the benefits of the State Government’s Universal Basic Income Program to nearly one million women across the state, with a substantial budgetary allocation of Rs. 7000 Crore.
The scheme seeks to provide crucial financial support to women who are heads of households through a monthly stipend, aimed at significantly enhancing their socio-economic well-being and promoting gender equality.
Launch of Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thogai scheme
The roll-out of the scheme began on September 15, 2023, with the groundwork to identify beneficiaries taking place in the months prior.
The beneficiaries were identified through camps held in two phases, with the first phase spanning from July 24 to August 4 in 98 wards, followed by the second phase from August 5 to August 16, covering 102 wards.
During these camps, PDS shop employees visited homes, distributing application papers and tokens containing camp details. Camp hours were from 9:30 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 5:30 pm, including Sundays. The details were then validated and a list of beneficiaries was identified.
The scheme has both online and offline registration options, with the official website serving as a valuable resource for information and registration guidance.
The scheme is targeted, with those who qualify for the stipend having to meet a set of eligibility criteria set by the state government.
- Applicants must be women aged 21 or above, born before September 15, 2002, to support adult women responsible for their families.
- The applicant’s family income should be below Rs 2.5 lakh per annum to assist economically disadvantaged women in meeting household needs.
- Beneficiaries’ families should not own more than 5 acres of wetland or 10 acres of dry land, targeting women with limited land assets and economic challenges.
- The woman’s annual household electricity consumption should not exceed 3600 units, focusing on financially constrained families in need of additional support.
- Unmarried women, single women, widows, and transgender persons are recognized as women heads of families, ensuring they can avail of scheme benefits.
Beneficiaries weigh in on Kalaignar Magalir Urimai Thogai scheme
Lakshmi lost her husband to an accident three years ago and views the scheme as a key to bridging her family’s needs. She says that she feels liberated and will find ways to save at least Rs 100 every month for her kids.
Vanitha, a resident of T Nagar, says “Initially, I didn’t know much about the scheme. A relative informed me about it and mentioned there were centres to help with the application process. Although I faced some difficulties connecting with the helpline, I eventually received the assistance I needed.” She adds that now her neighbours are also aware of how to apply, and they often check for updates together. Vanitha’s test amount was credited the past week and she is expecting Rs 1000 to be credited soon.
Priya from Chrompet feels that the targeted nature of the scheme could take away from the larger message. “I am yet to see where it’s going; I have my doubts. My sister isn’t eligible for the scheme, but her labour is also a reality, isn’t it? It’s not like only I get to vote; she should also avail benefits of the scheme.”
Radha S, a member of the All India Democratic Women’s Federation, a women’s rights group, welcomes the scheme. She says, “This scheme will go a long way in lifting the financial burden faced by many women. We need more such schemes to help vulnerable groups. This is not a freebie but a way to improve the standard of living of the people.”
Issues around rolling out of the scheme
While it is early days for the rollout of the scheme, some of the beneficiaries have had issues with the process to be followed to avail of the cash assistance.
Kowsalya, a resident of Egmore, says, “When I tried to apply, the system indicated that my Aadhaar card was invalid. I’m unsure if it’s due to mismatched documents, and I worry about possible rejection.”
Kowsalya also highlights her initial confusion about the registration process and how she has had to spend time learning about the correct steps to be followed. She adds that many of her friends were unaware of their eligibility.
Sadhana, a resident of Tambaram says, “Despite being a need-based scheme, I hear stories of discrepancies. My friend told me that her application was rejected. In such cases, we don’t know what to do about it.”
Some applicants have also encountered issues such as errors citing invalid Aadhaar, mismatch of identification numbers or problems with documentation.
Thilothama, in charge of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) night shelter for trans persons, highlights the challenges faced by transgender individuals in accessing the scheme. Due to the documentation requirements, many eligible individuals are awaiting their identity status changes. Thilothama emphasises that proving eligibility takes time.
“For trans persons at the GCC shelter, it’s a long way to go to avail of the scheme, especially due to the documentation requirements. They are all eligible, but to prove that takes time. Not even half of the residents out of 20 at the shelter can avail of the scheme anytime soon”, she adds.
Many feel the scheme should be accessible to a broader range of people. But such a move could be constrained by the financial limitations faced by the government.
Shyam Sankaran, a Professor of Public Finance, feels that the targeted nature of the scheme will help protect the state coffers while ensuring that those in need can access the scheme. “Universalising such a scheme will place an enormous financial burden on the exchequer that they may not be able to foot. Ensuring that a smaller but more vulnerable group can secure these benefits will still fulfil the stated aims of the scheme. There is also the possibility of expanding the scheme to cover a wider range of beneficiaries at a later stage.”
With time, the benefits offered by the scheme for the women of Chennai and Tamil Nadu will be more evident. Ironing out issues with the process to avail the benefits and ensuring that all those who are eligible can access the scheme will go a long way in improving the coverage. Much like the free bus travel scheme, the monthly cash assistance scheme could become a landmark move in improving the lives of women.