Chennai is all set to host Amma markets in select locations across the city

Brand Ammas expansion spree Should the TN government turn entrepreneur
news Politics Thursday, July 07, 2016 - 17:46

Picture this, a range of products all under one roof selling brand Amma commodities. This will turn into reality very soon.   

Chennai is all set to host Amma markets in select locations across the city. Based on the idea of a flea market, the Amma market will sell a wide range of products from garments and kitchen groceries to utensils and even nail polish, reported Deccan Chronicle. While the products on offer will be sold at subsidised rates, a report by Times of India  states that the commodities will be sourced from over 40 government departments, agencies and societies.

Having covered subsidised canteens, water, salt, pharmacies, cement, atta, seeds among other things, brand Amma is no doubt, a brilliant political strategy to ensure that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is always in the voter’s mind. And while reams of newsprint and airtime have been spent dissecting brand Amma, the question many critics and political opponents pose is, should the government turn entrepreneur and run a full-fledged business? Does Tamil Nadu really need a state-run market?

Venkatesh Athreya, an economist, says that in principle he has no problem with the state intervening in the market. “What is so sacrosanct that everything should be done by private players?” he wonders.  In cases where there is private monopoly, or a spike in prices of essential commodities, Athreya argues, the government selling subsidised products is welcome.

Political observer, Gnani Sankaran, however, differs. “Government intervention in creating fair price shops brings market to stability. But the government does not need to do everything,” he notes. The Tamil Nadu government, he observes, is “not able to deliver” on issues like providing employment opportunities, increasing the purchasing power of people and that is why it is coming up with initiatives like the Amma market.   

Officials argue that the market aims to promote and showcase products manufactured by government-aided and self-help groups. But Gnani says that instead of showcasing products under brand Amma, the government should have asked cooperatives and SHGs to set up their own shops and brand their respective products. He cites the example of Aavin, the brand belonging to the Tamil Nadu Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation Limited and Co-optex run by the Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society.

While both Gnani and Athreya don’t deny the political motivations for creating an Amma market, the economist notes, “What is significant is profit/loss. The question is whether it can sustain itself.” But with the revenue deficit already pegged at an alarming Rs. 9154.78 crore thanks to the host of freebies and subsidised offerings from the previous tenure, the burden on the state is now bound to expand.

However, with local body elections three months away, Jayalalithaa hopes brand Amma will once again be on the top of the voter’s mind. 

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