The freebie culture has made it to the centrestage of Indian politics. While a few are criticising, many are advocating freebies for people. The matter has also reached the Supreme Court through a PIL filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay’s petition in opposition to the practice of political parties providing or promising freebies to voters.
The intervention plea was filed in response to a Public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, who asked the Central government and the Election Commission to take steps to regulate political party poll manifestos and hold parties accountable for promises made in such manifestos.
Former Chief Economic Advisor KV Subramanian said, “It is wrong to say India is on the same path as Sri Lanka, those who are trying to do 2+2 are wrong.”
“States need to be cautious about the way they spend money. If they spend money on unnecessary things (like free electricity, and food), then their financial health will definitely go for a toss. States need to invest in infrastructure that will be beneficial for citizens. Also, freebies need to be stopped, otherwise, state coffers will be empty in no time.”
WHAT CENTRE SAYS
The central government has also backed the petitioner, stating that political party freebies must be regulated and that the Supreme Court can step in and rule until the legislature passes legislation in this regard.
STAND OF ELECTION COMMISSION
The Election Commission of India also came in support of instituting a committee as suggested by the Supreme Court to take a holistic view on how to curb the culture of freebies in elections. Filing the counter affidavit on a PIL by advocate Ashwani Upadhyay, the poll panel said, “Setting up any such expert body, having representation from a wide spectrum of the government and non-governmental bodies is a welcome step.”
However, the panel seeks not to be part of an expert body, proposed to decide the validity of the freebies in a PIL, and said, “Being a constitutional body, its views during deliberation may pre-decide the issue and affect a level playing field.”
WHAT POLITICAL PARTIES SAY
The Aam Adami Party is being accused of offering freebies, including free electricity and free water. The AAP also filed an additional affidavit in the freebies case before the Supreme Court saying terms of reference that may be formulated for an expert panel on freebies “must exclude considerations of electoral speeches”. If concerns over fiscal deficit and responsibility are indeed the point of the present proceedings, targeting and regulating electoral speech will amount to nothing more than a wild-goose chase. Electoral speeches made by unelected candidates are not, and cannot be, official statements of intent about a future government’s budgetary plans. The court’s intervention, if any, in the interests of fiscal responsibility should instead focus on the point of actual outgoing of funds from the public exchequer, that is, budgetary actions of already elected governments and their financial planning processes. Aam Aadmi Party National convener and Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal, has openly said that if politicians can get free visas, why not people get free healthcare and free education, accusing the Centre of waving off billions of rupees loans for the corporate turning them into freebies.
BJP accused the Aam Aadmi Party of using freebies to fulfill the political ambitions of Arvind Kejriwal. However, BJP leader Sambit Patra claimed that the welfare measures of the Modi government are designed to help the people stand on their feet. BJP said, “Freebies are aimed to get into power as they have no long-term benefits.”
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Kalvakuntla Kavitha said on Tuesday said that welfare schemes for poor people are not ‘freebies,’ and waiving loans of “dupe agencies” are actual freebies. In Telangana, we have around 250 welfare schemes that are being run for poor people. It is our responsibility as a state government to keep the best interests of the poor in mind,” she said. Remarking that there is a trend across the nation terming welfare schemes as ‘freebies,’ Kavitha said that the Centre is putting pressure on the state govt to stop these schemes. We’re very against this behavior. The welfare of poor people is the responsibility of any government. I believe a ‘freebie’ is what the BJP government has done- writing off a 10 lakh crore debt of dupe agencies,” she said. The ex-MP said, “The welfare of weaker societies is never a freebie, it is our social responsibility. I request the intelligentsia of the country to rise to the occasion and oppose this atmosphere that is being generated in the country today,” she expressed. India is such a diverse country with people from all backgrounds. It is the government’s responsibility to help the weaker communities to break the cycle of poverty and progress. State governments are working towards it and central government should not put any hindrances in that,” she added.
Congress– Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Jaya Thakur told the Supreme Court that freebies in elections, such as framing schemes and providing subsidies, are the responsibility of ruling parties to help the weaker sections of society. Jaya Thakur has filed an intervention application, claiming that providing such subsidies and concessions to citizens is in the discharge of the Constitutional mandate, which is necessary for democracy. “As per our doctrine of the Constitution, ruling parties are duty bound to frame policies for the welfare and uplifting of the weaker sections. Therefore, they are rightly giving subsidies and it cannot be said freebies,” the application said.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) moved application in the SC in the freebies case saying welfare measures are not freebies. The Centre’s tax waivers and loan waivers should also be included as “freebies” welfare schemes providing free services are introduced with the intent of securing social order and economic justice under Article 38 to minimise the inequalities in income, status, facilities, and opportunities. In no imaginable reality, it could be construed as a “freebie”. Such schemes have been introduced in order to provide basic necessities which poor households cannot afford. They cannot be imputed to be luxuries” said an affidavit filed by DMK leader and Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin. The party in power in Tamil Nadu has also defended the free electricity and other schemes introduced in the state.
“Electricity can provide lighting, heating, and cooling, resulting in a better standard of living. It can facilitate a child in his education and studies. A welfare scheme, therefore, can have a wide reach and multiple intentions behind its introduction and the cascading effect arising from it cannot be defined in a restrictive meaning as a freebie”, says DMK.
Shiv Sena It is important that the issue is being raised by a political party and the petitioner also belongs to the political party. We need to see the loans of defaulters being waived off, which damage the economy worse than social welfare schemes which they call freebies.
WHO OFFERED FREEBIES
Aam Aadmi Party had introduced a 50 per cent subsidy on electricity bills after coming to power in 2013 and 20 thousand litre free water per month. Later, before the 2020 assembly polls, it made 200 free electricity in Delhi and announced 300 units free electricity in Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and now in Gujarat. After forming the government in Punjab, AAP made 300 unit of free electricity. In Delhi, the party offered free pilgrimage for senior citizens. In recent poll-bound states, the party promised Rs 1,000 for unemployed women and free health and education for all. In Delhi, it has also made free bus rides for women in the public transport fleet.
BJP-led central government had made Rs 6,000 per year to the farmers calling it kisan samman nidhi just ahead of the 2019 general elections. It was aimed at providing financial assistance to farmer families who are in need of support. The scheme played spectacularly in 2019 polls for BJP. In West Bengal assembly polls it promised Rs 22,000 for girls in four instalments at different points during her schooling to counter mamta banerjee’s kanyashree scheme. BJP manifesto also promised annual cash aid of Rs 10,000 for farmers and annual financial assistance of Rs 6,000 for fishermen. The BJP, in UP manifesto 2022, had promised free cylinders and scooty for women, free electricity for farmers and 2 crore tablets for the young. BJP-led Himachal Pradesh government also announced free electricity and 50 per cent discount for women on the debt-ridden public transport. The BJP also announced free drinking water and free travel to women commuters in Metro and city buses during Hyderabad municipal polls, along with free power to all houses using less than 100 units per month.
Congress also joined the wagon for 2022 recently in five state assembly polls offering ‘freebies’. Party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra offered scooters and smartphones and promised to cut power bills and farm loans would be waived. For the coming assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh congress announced a monthly allowance of 1,500 for women and 300 units of free electricity, to all households. The biggest promise congress made during the general elections in 2019 was to waive farm loans.
The TRS in Telangana offered free drinking water and free powers for certain categories of consumers in the party’s manifesto for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections last year.
DMK and AIADMK regional parties in south India have also been ahead in offering freebies. The AIADMK had announced to reduce fuel prices and DMK said to slash petrol rates by Rs 5 and diesel by Rs 4 for Tamilnadu assembly elections. Subsequently, the ruling AIADMK offered all ration card holders free washing machines and solar gas stoves and DMK promised to distribute tablets and computers with internet connections to students.
TMC during the Bengal assembly polls, announced the Universal Basic Income scheme for all weaker sections and promised Rs 500 per month for general category families and Rs 1,000 per month for SC/ST category. TMC also promised to increase the support to small farmers from Rs 6,000 per acre to Rs 10,000 annually. The TMC manifesto also promised student credit cards with a limit of Rs 10 lakh with a 4% rate of interest guaranteed by the state to youngsters for higher studies.
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