Tamil Nadu’s 19th chief minister (she was also the 11th, 14th, 16th and 18th) J Jayalalithaa, who died on December 5, 2016, was known for gifting her 72 million people a record set of freebies, but she also leaves behind a state that ranks among India’s top five in many social, crime and industrial indicators.

Tamil Nadu now has India’s lowest fertility rate--lower than Australia, Finland and Belgium--second best infant mortality and maternal mortality rate; records among the lowest crime rates against women and children; and has more factories and provides more industrial employment than any other Indian state, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of various data sets.

However, financing the freebie culture came at a cost. Tamil Nadu witnessed a 92% increase in debt over five years ending 2015, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of state budgets in November 2015.

Tamil Nadu Health Indicators
IndicatorScoreAll India Rank
Infant Mortality Rate (deaths per 1,000 live births)212nd (best - Kerala 12; worst - Madhya Pradesh 54)
Maternal Mortality Rate (deaths of mothers per 100,000 births)902nd (best - Kerala 66; worst - Uttar Pradesh 392)
Fertility rate (average children per woman)1.71st (best, along with Punjab 1.7, worst - Bihar 3.5)

Sources: National Health Mission

Tamil Nadu’s education indicators have always been above the Indian average and have steadily improved during Jayalalithaa’s 15-year stint as chief minister.

Tamil Nadu Education Indicators
IndicatorScoreAll India Rank
Gross Enrolment Ratio (Students enrolled as %age of children eligible for primary school), or GER, girls104.36th (best - Meghalaya 143.1; worst - Andhra Pradesh 84.05)
GER (Total)103.86th (best - Meghalaya 140.9; worst -Andhra Pradesh 84.48)
Net Enrolment Ratio (Students enrolled as %age of population of that age group), NER, girls91.36th (best - Mizoram 99; worst - Andhra Pradesh 73.03 )
NER (Total)90.96th (best - Mizoram 97.6; worst - Andhra Pradesh 72.10 )
Pupil-Teacher Ratio (students per teacher)1813th (best - Sikkim 5; worst - Bihar 36)
Literacy Rate (%)80.314th (best - Kerala 93.9; worst - Bihar 63.82 )
Female Literacy Rate (%)73.815th (best - Kerala 91.9; worst - Rajasthan 52.66 )

Sources: Census 2011, District Information System for Education, 2015-16
Note: GER exceeds 100% because of grade repetition and entry at ages younger or older than the typical age at that grade level

Although Tamil Nadu regularly reports violence and discrimination based on caste, the state’s crime rates are among India’s lowest, particularly those relating to women and children.

Tamil Nadu Crime Indicators
IndicatorScoreAll India Rank
Crime rate against women (crimes registered per 100,000 people)17Lowest (second - Sikkim 17.6, worst - Assam 148.2)
Crime rate against children13Second lowest (best - Manipur 11.4; worst - Mizoram 50.1)
Crime rate against scheduled castes12.3Third lowest (best - Manipur 0; worst - Rajasthan 57.3)

Source: National Crime Records Bureau, 2015

As regards industrial growth, Tamil Nadu has more factories than any other Indian state (37,378), according to the Annual Survey of Industries, 2013-14. Maharashtra ranks second with 29,123 factories, followed by Gujarat with 22,876. More people are engaged in industrial work (2.04 million) in Tamil Nadu of any Indian state; Maharashtra (1.8 million) is second and Gujarat (1.37 million) third.

Tamil Nadu Industrial Indicators
RankFactoriesEmploymentGross Value AddedFixed Capital Invested
1Tamil NaduTamil NaduMaharashtraGujarat
3GujaratGujaratTamil NaduTamil Nadu
4Andhra PradeshKarnatakaKarnatakaOdisha
5Uttar PradeshUttar PradeshUttar PradeshKarnataka

Source: Annual Survey of Industries 2013-14

Tamil Nadu’s per capita income is India’s fifth highest, but the four states preceding it are substantially smaller. Among the country’s large states, it has the richest people.

Source: Central Statistical Office 2014-15
Note: *at constant prices

Freebies come at a cost

Jayalalithaa is known for the freebie culture, which she did not begin but did expand, personalising it along the way. For instance, her 2011 election promises included 100 units of free electricity to every household, a free laptop for class 11 and class 12 students (with free internet connections), a gram of sovereign gold as marriage assistance, and four goats/sheep to families who lived below the poverty line. The laptops had images of “Amma (mother)”, as Jayalalithaa was popularly known. Other programmes also carried that name, such as Amma canteens (for subsidised food) and Amma medicals (for subsidised medicines).

While some programmes were applauded as having a social effect--such as the midday meal scheme, which Tamil Nadu pioneered before Jayalalithaa took office for the first time in 1991 and encouraged children to stay in school--they resulted in the fastest rising debt of any Indian state, as IndiaSpend reported in November 2015.

Average Debt Per Capita, Maharashtra & Tamil Nadu
StateOutstanding Liabilities (Rs crore)Population (in millions)Average debt per person (Rs)
Tamil Nadu195,29067.8628,778

Source: Reserve Bank of India, Census 2011

Debt, per se, is not bad, if the state’s economic growth can sustain and service it. So, the key matrix is the debt as a percentage of the state’s gross domestic product (GSDP) or total economic output. Tamil Nadu’s debt-to-GSDP ratio at 20% is lower than the national average, an indication the state is growing despite the spike in debt.

(Salve is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)

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