The term ‘Freebie’ is not new or unknown to the general public. It has been a prevalent culture in Indian Politics since long. We all are aware that usually, during the time of elections, the political parties make announcements or promises of giving free goods ranging from grains, phones, laptops, Tv, Wine and even essentials such as Electricity, Water to the public in the name of Welfare Schemes just to attract or lure the voters to vote for them. But what we as citizens need to understand is that there is a difference between genuine Welfare schemes and Freebie Schemes. It’s a common trend in India that the competition between the political parties to win the elections lead them to announce such schemes but the long-term effects of such schemes on the administration and economy of the state as well as the country are ignored. In some instances, though such announcements or promises became quite successful. For E.g.: a) The mid-day meal scheme started by K Kamaraj and expanded by MG Ramachandran in 1982 was first mocked by Delhi only to be adopted as a national programme a decade later. b) NT Rama Rao’s promise of rice at Rs 2 per kg is the original avatar of the current day National Food Security Programme.
However not every Freebie Scheme is a success, the motive behind majority of the freebie schemes is to lure the voters and gain maximum votes in order to win the elections. Even before the freebie schemes were in trend political parties used to announce subsidies to lure the voters. For E.g. In 1967, DMK Founder CN Annadurai promised a 4.5 kg bag of rice at Rs 1 if his party was elected to power. This promise helped his party to win the elections but later the party could provide just 1 Kg bag of rice at Rs 1 instead. Later when the Freebie Culture started, in 2006 State Elections the DMK Party promised distribution of Colour Televisions for free, announced subsidies in rice, offered 2 acres of land for the landless, free gas stoves and even cash handouts. Figures from the time show that the DMK spent over Rs 3,340 crore on 14-inch colour television sets between 2006-2010. Its rival AIADMK spent over Rs 1,200 crore on procuring 7,84,000 laptops for students in the 2012-2013 period alone.
Effects of Freebie Politics:
It is clear from the examples that in some instances the Freebie Schemes have benefited the public whereas in some cases it has led to drastic negative impact on the economy of the state adversely affecting the general public.
• Freebie schemes announced during natural calamities or pandemics such as distribution of free medicines, rations, cash to the victims are actually meant for the welfare of the citizens.
• Schemes such as Public Distribution System, employment guarantee schemes, support to education and enhanced outlays for health, particularly during the pandemic. These go a long way in increasing the productive capacity of the population and help build a healthier and a stronger workforce, which is a necessary part of any growth strategy.
• Many states promise sewing machines, cycles etc for women which are bought from the budget revenue but contribute to the sale of industries manufacturing the products thus boosting the industries.
• Freebie Schemes are sometimes necessary in lesser developed states for the upliftment of the public in the state.
• The Freebie schemes tend to make citizens irresponsible as they stop analysing the long-term benefits and agendas of various parties. The citizens get unduly influenced from these freebie schemes and make wrong decisions. Often the deserving candidate falls short and the other one who makes announcements to lure the voters is elected.
• Announcing Freebie Schemes and implementing them after the elections often have drastic impact on the economy of the state as well as the country. Provisions of free electricity, water, public transport etc potentially undermine the credit culture and distort the prices through cross-subsidisation, eroding incentives for private investment.
• Moreover, the Goods distributed under such schemes come from the money of the taxpayers itself. It is just like putting money in the left pocket and taking money out of the right pocket.
According to statistics, State Government’s expenditure on subsidies grew by 12.9 % in 2020-21 and 11.2% in 2021-22. Statistics show that Gujarat, Punjab and Chhattisgarh spend more than 10% of their revenue expenditure on subsidies which are actually supposed to be used for the development of the state and genuine welfare of the citizens. Economists state that as long as any state has the capacity and ability to finance freebies, it is fine, if not then such freebie schemes tend to become a burden on the economy.
What Did the SC Say?
On 22nd August, 2022 a bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana stated “There has to be a distinction between the offer of ornaments, television sets, consumer electronics free of cost and real welfarist offers. The promise of free coaching for professional courses cannot be compared with the promise of free white goods.”
CJI stated “You cannot prevent a political party or individual from making promises that are aimed at fulfilling this constitutional mandate if elected to power. The question is what exactly qualifies as a valid promise”
The Supreme Court of India has decided to set up a committee to study the impact of ‘freebies’ on taxpayers and economy and recommend measures to regulate it. The court wanted an independent expert body to study the pressing issue, interact with stakeholders and the general public and give a report containing concrete suggestions that can be sent to the government. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal wanted the Election Commission (EC) to be kept out of the issue of freebies, which are political and economic in nature, and wanted Parliament to decide appropriate remedial measures. But the court disagreed and asked, “Do you seriously think Parliament will debate regulating freebies? Which political party will debate this issue? No political party would agree to curbs on freebies ahead of polls. Each of them wants it.”
As we can see that Freebie Schemes can actually benefit the citizens and contribute towards the development of a state, the announcements of such schemes and such promises by the political promises are inevitable. But the Political parties need to ponder upon their capability whether they are financially stable to fulfil such promises before making them and the Election Commission needs to provide a funding mechanism for such schemes to the parties. Because in the current scenario even if any Freebie Promise is fulfilled, the ordinary voter himself/herself has to pay the cost in the long run-in form of higher taxes or experience less development. We as citizens need to think and analyse such schemes and not get carried away by the short-term benefits, rather the focus should be on the overall development of the state and not personal benefits. Once this attitude changes, it might lead to a decrease in the prevalent Freebie Politics in our country and the only focus would be on actual welfare of the state and the citizens”Subject: The street view of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, India.Location: New Delhi, India.”