Q. Freebies entail populism rather than welfarism which are necessary to guarantee civil rights. Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer. (250 words)
- Source: The Hindu - Page 9/OPED - The need to move away from clientelism;
- GS 2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design & implementation.
Introduction: In the recent times there have bee a tendency to promise freebies as electoral promises such as free laptops and cycles in various states like UP, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, free water and electricity in Delhi, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh etc. This polarizes voters, however, its impact as a welfare measure is doubtful.
Welfare initiatives are those which promote overall well being of a person in such a way so as to increase opportunities of that person and thereby ensuring equity in the society. These include:
- A targeted Public Distribution System - to ensure equitable access to food.
- Providing social security for labourers - to ensure measures against exploitation.
- Quality education and fair employment- to ensure skilling and professional opportunities.
- Affordable healthcare - to ensure Right to health
- decent housing, and protection from exploitation and violence etc.
Freebies, on the other hand, are provided to attract voters to cast their vote in a particular election.
- They create limited private benefit for the receiver and do not contribute towards strengthening public goods/facilities.
Problem of Freebies are two-fold:
One, Freebies promote populism and reduce value of a citizen or a voter:
- They Encourage personality cult: Unsolicited freebies cultivate a patron-client syndrome and encourage personality cults in a democratic polity.
- Degradation of a voter: Besides, they affect the critical faculties of citizens, particularly the poor and the marginalised.
- Degradation of a citizen: Providing freebies is to treat people like subjects, whereas citizens are entitled to constitutional guarantees.
- Against neo-liberal paradigm: A neoliberal economy encourages private capital and the market, while forcing the state to withdraw from welfare.
Two, Freebies are against welfarism:
- Diverts money from welfare: including better education, health and other facilities. These facilities could have better served for the welfare of the public.
- These are Tangible assets with short term benefits only: a laptop or cycle would eventually degrade. Without good school to visit cycle is of no use and without skilling programs a laptop is of no use.
- Public investment in infrastructure is more important: for example water treatment facilities and access to tapped water would is more important than giving poor quality water to all.
- Welfare of only some members of the society: Freebies are often not universally given. There can be opaqueness in the selection criteria of the beneficiaries, which can breed inequity.
However, freebies can entail some kind of welfarism too:
- Increased access for women: If women are given cycle or allowed free access to transport, they would be able to access the world outside their homes and thus ensuring their freedom.
- Right to dignified life: ensuring a basic minimum consumption of electricity and clean water would ensure a dignified life. Similarly Free meals from Anna canteens in Tamil Nadu has ensured cooked meals for all.
- Equal access to new technologies: For example lack of access to internet deprives poor from a whole host of activities. Therefore free Wi-Fi can be a good step. Similarly distribution of Laptop on subsidies to deserving students can improve various skilling opportunities for future. The COVID-19 pandemic has made us realize the intensity of this digital divide in the society.
- Many welfare schemes have been improved version of freebies: For example mid-day meals, and cheap rations were first distributed in Tamil Nadu, which are now an essential part of welfare ecosystem.
Conclusion: The Freebies distribution can have various limitations of populism, impartiality, diversion of public money etc. However, as the time many freebies have become necessities for a dignified living. Therefore it is necessary to have mechanism to distinguish between the two.