Introduction Freebies Culture & Economy:
- The Supreme Court has emphasized the necessity of establishing a central body comprising members from Niti Aayog, the Finance Commission, both ruling and opposition parties, the RBI, and other stakeholders.
- This body is tasked with providing recommendations on how to regulate the practice of political parties offering freebies during campaigns.
- In response to a petition challenging the tradition of political parties making promises of freebies during elections, the apex court bench highlighted the need for this panel to assess the advantages and disadvantages of such offerings, as they significantly impact the nation’s economy.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also expressed concerns about the use of freebies to secure votes at the expense of long-term development.
- Recently, PM Modi raised this concern while pointing out the growing outstanding dues of power distribution companies as a looming crisis.
- According to a study based on data from various states’ latest budget speeches, which include major financial assistance, cash transfers, utility subsidies, loan or fee waivers, and interest-free loans, the expenditure on freebies varies from 0.1% to 2.7% of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) for different states.
- “Freebies” denotes a public welfare measure, encompassing any goods or services provided free of charge by the government to its citizens.
- However, our existing legal and policy framework lacks a precise definition of this term. In a general sense, a “freebie” refers to something given without cost.
- Therefore, services such as free power, healthcare, and education can technically be categorized as freebies. Nonetheless, the exact meaning of this term is contingent upon who you ask and the context in which it is used.
- The Election Commission has clarified that “freebies” is a term open to subjective interpretation and does not possess a precise legal definition.
- According to an RBI report, freebies do not fall under the category of merit goods or expenditures like the public distribution system, employment guarantee schemes, and state support for education and healthcare facilities.
- Instead, they encompass provisions for free electricity, water, transportation, along with the waiver of pending utility bills, loans, and similar benefits.
Boon or bane?
- The debate over freebies and their actual impact has been ongoing. From a financial standpoint, freebies impose a burden on the country’s resources.
- Economists argue that if a state has the capacity and capability to finance freebies, it may be acceptable; otherwise, freebies become an economic liability.
- Some scholars go a step further, asserting that there is limited evidence to support a connection between freebies and the economy, suggesting that they are primarily a flawed political strategy.
- Addressing the plight of India’s impoverished population cannot be achieved solely through freebies or incentives.
- Regarding farmers and their productivity, free electricity, water, farm loan waivers, and subsidies do not represent sustainable solutions. Another argument against the freebie culture is that it manipulates voters.
Measures to mitigate the negative impacts:
Several measures can be taken to counteract the adverse effects of freebies:
- The Finance Commission, an independent body, can consider a state’s debt when allocating funds to assess the state’s long-term economic sustainability in the context of freebies.
- Bringing freebies under the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and regulating election manifestos through the Election Commission of India (ECI).
- Giving priority to Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs) and merit goods such as the Public Distribution System (PDS), education, and healthcare to promote greater prosperity.
- Ensuring that freebies reach their intended beneficiaries, such as ensuring farm loan waivers benefit actual farmers.
- Imposing expenditure limits on loan waivers, free electricity, and water.
- Holding government departments accountable for their actions, as recently implemented in Jharkhand, by assigning responsibility for debts.
- Raising public awareness about the consequences of such freebies and the importance of fiscal discipline.
- There is a pressing need to allocate more resources to welfare schemes and monitor allocations to the social sector.
- India may aspire to achieve a social contract akin to the Scandinavian model, where individuals voluntarily restrain themselves in pursuit of the greater good.
- However, achieving this may require India to first attain its goal of a $10 trillion GDP.