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Free farm power supply restored, income ceiling goes for PDS

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI, MAY 18. The All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government today restored free power supply to farmers and made a slew of other announcements including withdrawal of defamation cases against the media and repeal of the controversial anti-conversion law.

Among the new decisions, which came in a statement by the Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, is the withdrawal of the system of `H' endorsement on ration cards "with immediate effect. Cardholders with `H' endorsement can draw commodities to which they were entitled earlier.

The income ceiling of Rs. 5000 a month for eligibility to buy commodities under the public distribution system has also been done away with. Families can apply for new cards from June 1 to 30 this year at the concerned taluk office in districts and offices of the Assistant Commissioners of Civil Supplies in Chennai. The applications will be processed immediately. A detailed schedule for renewing ration cards will be announced separately.

The system of rice coupons stands discontinued from July 1, 2004, after which cardholders can buy rice from PDS outlets without producing coupons.

Ms. Jayalalithaa blamed the DMK Government for her government's decision to introduce metering of electricity supply to farmers. The DMK Government had taken funds from the Centre's Accelerated Power Development Programme in 2001 on condition that it would observe all principles of the 1998 Electricity Regulatory Commission Act, including metering of farm pumpsets and discontinuing free electricity. "This Government had no choice in the matter as the funds had already been received by the previous DMK Government," she said.

Now, farmers need not use the government's money order scheme to pay electricity bills. The government will settle the bills directly with the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board at the rates fixed by the Electricity Regulatory Commission.

As money orders have already been despatched for the second half-year of 2003-2004, the new free electricity scheme will be operational from the first half-year of 2004-2005, begun April 1, 2004.

"I have now ordered that meters shall not be installed for farm pumpset connections and huts. The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board will inform the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission accordingly," Ms. Jayalalithaa said.

Egg in noon meal

The Chief Minister also announced inclusion of eggs in the nutritious noon meal programme and reintroduction of the free bus pass scheme for all students from classes 1 to 12 and for all college students from June 1.

In Chennai, college students will be given 60 exchange tokens, up from 40, for travel in Metropolitan Transport Corporation buses.

Good relations with employees

Ms. Jayalalithaa said that with immediate effect, she was cancelling all punishments and withdrawing disciplinary proceedings against all government employees and teachers for participating in the July 2003 strike. She said she decided to take this "magnanimous" step "to promote good relations between government employees and teachers, on the one hand, and the government, on the other, and with the hope that they will serve the people of this State with renewed vigour and dedication".

The government will also withdraw all cases filed against the strike leaders under the Tamil Nadu Essential Services Maintenance Act.

Ms. Jayalalithaa described her government as the "strongest champion" of the rights of the minorities. She said the intention behind the law against forcible conversions was to further promote religious harmony.

"However, as leaders of some minority communities have requested withdrawal of this law, and in order to clear any misconception on account of this law, I have ordered that the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act 2002 be repealed at once."

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