A new direction

Puthu Vaazhvu project

Jaya, 22, patiently explains the nuances of controlling a sewing machine to a trainee while at the same time, monitors the progress of another trainee learning the art of stitching in a curve. Jaya has been working for three years at Intimate Fashions, a 100 per cent export oriented unit at Guduvanchery on the outskirts of Chennai. She has a tough task, to train the 10 new recruits under her charge and make them ready for the assembly line.

Intimate Fashions specialises in making lingerie for two high street labels 'Victoria's Secret', and 'Pink'. All the products have to be manufactured to exacting standards. There can be no margin for error. Which is why, all of Jaya's wards have to perform well.

For Jaya herself, and many like her at the company, it has been a giant leap from poverty and obscurity in rural Tamil Nadu, to playing an important role in running the wheels of production for the global economy.

Life changed for Jaya and others when the Tamil Nadu government began a project in 2005 called 'Puthu Vaazhvu', which translated from Tamil means 'A new life'.

Now, poverty reduction projects aren't new in this country. Schemes are drawn up, funding provided with the hope that the project should show results. Often the cost of administering the project takes up most of the budget, and corruption and maladministration result in targets not being achieved.

The difference with Puthu Vaazhvu is that it has been very effective in achieving the results and at the same time has made several innovations that make it worthy of replication in other parts of the country.

It all began in 2005, with a funding of Rs 717 crore from the World Bank to the Tamil Nadu government. "It was meant to be another poverty alleviation project. The difference, however, is that we spent a lot of time in getting the project design right," says N Muruganandam, who was associated with the project during its inception and is presently joint secretary for ports in New Delhi.

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