Caring for the Poor

Dr Suresh Mathew Dr Suresh Mathew
26 Sep 2022
One has to look at the ‘freebie’ debate in the background of the vulgar display of wealth at the top and the struggle of the famished bottom to make ends meet.

A debate is raging on what constitutes ‘freebies’ and whether the welfare measures undertaken by the governments would come under it. The trigger for this needless debate came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent statement that “attempts are being made to collect votes by distributing free revdis (revdi is a sweet used as a metaphor for freebies). This revdi culture is very dangerous for the development of the country.” 

It seems he was referring to leaders who announce provision of power, water and some other services free to people especially in States going to polls. The uncalled for arguments and counter-arguments failed to go into the shocking ground reality of 10% of the population holding 65% of India’s total wealth while the bottom 50% owning a meagre 5.9% of the country’s wealth. One has to look at the ‘freebie’ debate in the background of the vulgar display of wealth at the top and the struggle of the famished bottom to make ends meet.

Here comes the inevitability of lending a helping hand to the have-nots to keep their body and soul together. A responsible government has to draw up policies to put money or material into the hands of the poor and the marginalized. The UPA government’s rural employment scheme was such a policy in the right direction. The NDA’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi is another initiative to give farmers up to Rs. 6,000 per year as minimum support income. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s proposal during the last general election campaign that Rs. 72,000 would be given to the poor per annum if his party was elected to power was yet another revolutionary idea in the line of positive action to boost the life of those at the bottom. The country needs many more such welfare schemes to push the bottom half to a level of minimum standard of living.
 
In this context, an initiative taken by the Tamil Nadu government is a step in the right direction. A State government survey found that 25% of students attended school without having breakfast. In order to encourage children to attend school, the Stalin government decided to provide free breakfast in primary schools. It was another Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. G. Ramachandran, who had launched the famous mid-day meal scheme, now implemented across the country. A few years ago, the Supreme Court had upheld the distribution of consumer items to women, farmers and marginalized sections of the society in Tamil Nadu as part of election promises. The court held that such provisions were meant to further the Directive Principles of State Policy.  

Those who oppose what is often wrongly termed as ‘freebies’ argue that it is financed by public money and a wasteful expenditure. They seem to turn a blind eye to the lakhs of crores of people’s money written off by banks to business houses; they apparently look the other way regarding thousands of crores of loss to the public exchequer due to changes in tax structure in favour of industrialists and the rich; they also forget that thousands of crores have been swindled by business magnets by way of unpaid loans. The amount set apart for the so called ‘freebies’ falls into insignificance when one takes into account the money the government loses because of its efforts to ‘bail out’ the rich and the powerful.

freebies welfare measures Narendra Modi revdi poor UPA rural employment scheme Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Rahul Gandhi Supreme Court women public money government Issue 40 2022 Indian Currents

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