Sop or welfare debate

Source: The post is based on the article “Sop or welfare debate” published in The Hindu on 5th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes.

Relevance: India’s subsidy burden.

News: Recently, Prime Minister warned youth not to get carried away by the ‘revari culture’, where votes are sought by promising ‘freebies’. In another instance, while hearing a PIL, the Chief Justice of India remarked that ‘freebies’ were a serious issue.

What are Freebies?

What constitutes ‘freebies’ and what are legitimate welfare measures to protect the vulnerable sections are essentially political question that has no answer yet.

Read here: PM’s ‘revdi’ remark: We need to disentangle good subsidies from bad
What are the recent Supreme Court remarks on Freebies?

The Supreme Court felt that Parliament could discuss this issue but no party would want a debate on this, as all of them support such sops. The Bench also disfavoured the ECI preparing a ‘model manifesto’ as it would be an empty formality.

Read here: Supreme Court calls for a panel to look into freebies issue
What are the SC’s previous remarks on Freebies?

In S. Subramaniam Balaji vs Government of Tamil Nadu (2013) case, the court upheld the distribution of television sets or consumer goods on the ground that schemes targeted at women, farmers and the poorer sections were in furtherance of Directive Principles.

The court also held that as long as public funds were spent based on appropriations cleared by the legislature, they could neither be declared illegal nor the promise can be termed a ‘corrupt practice’.

However, the court directed the ECI to frame guidelines to regulate the content of manifestos. The ECI subsequently included in its Model Code of Conduct a stipulation that parties should avoid promises “that vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters”. The code also stipulates that only promises which were possible to be fulfilled should be made and that manifestos should contain the rationale for a promised welfare measure and indicate the means of funding it.

What are the challenges associated with Freebies?

Freebies pushing the economy to unviable pre-election promises that adversely affect the informed decision-making by voters. The Solicitor-General report mentioned that Freebies distorted the voter’s informed decision-making, and that unregulated populism may lead to an economic disaster.

Read more: From freebies to welfare

Any further step, such as distinguishing welfare measures from freebies and pre-election inducements, or adding to the obligations of fiscal responsibility and fiscal prudence must come from the legislature.

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