Compared to most other states in India, Tamil Nadu is noted for widespread provision of education, primary health care, nutrition support, rural roads, electricity, water and other public services. These services are typically well planned and tend to work well. I examine what determines Tamil Nadu’s performance. I argue that widespread and decentralized collective action for public services plays a critical role in it but such collective action is a new phenomenon, dating back to the seventies. I also argue that normative challenges by major social movements, changing influences of various social groups and raising individual capabilities among common people played an instrumental role in enabling such collective action that ultimately had an impact on public services.
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