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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘Freebies’ need to be debated

The Supreme Court has a great issue in hand, the decision on which may impact the future of the country. The taxpayer's money should not be wasted in 'freebies' but what constitute 'freebies' and what is not is a million dollar question.


The ongoing freebies case in the Supreme Court of India has reached an interesting stage with the DMK seeking to be made a party into it. It clearly indicated that the presumption on which the ‘freebies’ is understood would decide its fate in favour of the Centre or States, the Rich or the Poor, and the real objectives expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, and its several provisions.

DMK has challenged the very presumption of ‘freebies’ under which the Centre led by Modi government has labelled by it the welfare schemes introduced by the State governments alone. On the one hand PM Modi has been criticizing the other political parties in opposition ruling several states for their ‘welfare schemes’ as ‘freebies’ for a long time, the opposition has also questioned him why his ‘welfare and other promotion schemes’ should not fall in this category? DMK has even questioned, forget about the ‘welfare schemes’ for the poor, why not put the Centre’s “tax holidays” for foreign companies, “waiver of bad loans of influential industrialists” and granting of crucial contracts to “favoured conglomerates” should not be put in the same bracket as ‘freebies?

DMK has even put the matter on record in the Supreme Court and said that there was no “straight-jacket formula” to decipher which scheme deserves to be called a ‘freebie’. The Constitution of India empowers not only the Centre but also the States to promulgate welfare schemes, and the term ‘freebies’ cannot be interpreted to restrict States, the DMK has said. “Such Schemes have been introduced in order to provide basic necessities which poor households cannot afford. They cannot be imputed to be luxuries. Schemes such as free electricity can have a multi-dimensional effect on a poor household.”

The party have even mentioned that it had introduced various welfare schemes such as rice at Rs1 per kg, free distribution of colour television sets to poor households, free bus passes to women among others for uplifting the poor households. “A welfare scheme providing a free service is introduced with the intent to secure a social order and economic justice. In no imaginable reality, it could be construed as a freebie,” the party has argued.

Before going into details, one must know what is a ‘freebie’. The world originated sometime during 1925-30 perhaps from a noun phrase ‘free bee’. It was used in sentence like “Put the bee on to borrow money with not intentions or repaying it.” And the money that was not intended to be repaid was referred to as ‘freebie’. If we stick to the origin, even all the loans given to the rich, which are not intended to be repaid, are ‘freebies’.

In contemporary language ‘freebies’ are defined as something given without charge or cost. No doubt, political parties and leaders have been resorting to ‘freebies’, including PM Modi, who warned about the “Revadi culture” on July 16, 2022, while inaugurating Bundelkhand Expressways in Jalaun. He denounced the ‘politics of freebies’ allegedly practiced by certain political parties to garner votes. He called upon the people to be cautious of them and also rid the country’s political arena of the proponents of ‘Revadi (freebie) culture” as it was a dangerous trend which retarded the growth of the country. Most surprisingly he said so as if he and his BJP or allies are not following the same culture which he was denouncing.

It did not go unreplied. Chief Minister of Delhi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal said that providing free education and healthcare are not ‘freebies’, but efforts towards making India No 1. It is not a secret, but everyone can see the level of education and healthcare achievement in NCT Delhi, which is not a small gain at a time when Modi government has been pursuing policies since 2014, making education and healthcare too expensive for the common people in the country. It should also be noted that Arvind Kejariwal has defeated BJP and neutralized Modi’s political clout or charisma not only in Delhi but some other states too, most recent being the Punjab.

Other political parties, such as DMK in Tamil Nadu, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Nitish Kumar and Tejaswi Yadav duo in Bihar, INC in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, BJD in Odisha, etc., have been emerging challengers for Modi’s dream of winning 2024 Lok Sabha election. If they serve the people better, it would dampen the prospect of Modi. Political analyst says that Modi has no option but to curtail the effectiveness of the opposition ruled states by constricting their financial lifeline in the name of containing the dangers of ‘freebies’ so that they may not serve well and fell victim to anti-incumbency. It is clearly a political issue and must be fought politically, and let the people vote for those who serve them most.

Incensing the political dangers, the enthusiasts of the PM Modi’s opinion have brought the case in the Supreme Court of India, where it is now legally being fought. So be it. But presumption should be equitable in which neither rich nor poor be given undue advantage over the other. Social and Economic justice must be secured firs; dignity of individuals must be protected along with their lives and livelihoods; equal opportunity to all must be delinked with paying capacity; equality of access must be secured for all in all educational, health, and other institutions and must not be linked with money; and finally the rules must not be made or policies adopted for the benefit of the few only in name of development. Development of a nation must not be presumed only as the creation and accumulation of wealth in few hands by supporting them with all legal and illegal means, but it should also include the welfare of the entire humanity – the poor children, the women, and those who have been suffering from social, economic, and several other injustices.

The Supreme Court has a great issue in hand, the decision on which may impact the future of the country. The taxpayer’s money should not be wasted in ‘freebies’ but what constitute ‘freebies’, and what is not is a million dollar question. (IPA Service)

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