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There are no easy answers to the freebies issue

  • Published
    30th Aug, 2022

Context:

The recent petition over the merits of freebies raised questions over its rationality. But the presumption that political parties are oriented towards short-term political gains without any thought for the future may be incorrect.

Merit versus non-merit:

  • It is not easy to evaluate the merit of any freebie (a word used to describe subsidized consumption). For example, the welfare effect of a scheme of free bicycles for children or a mid-day meal scheme may look like a cheap electoral bribe. But those familiar with rural areas would know that poor transport is a serious obstacle to attending school or college.

Court’s intervention:

  • The Supreme court in Subramaniam Balaji's judgment has remarked that it is for the state to decide about framing a scheme to benefit the people and the role of the court is limited. The concepts of livelihood and standard of living are bound to change in their content from time to time. It is factual that what was once considered to be a luxury has become a necessity in the present day. Judicial interference is permissible when the action of the government is unconstitutional and not when such action is not wise or when the extent of expenditure is not for the good of the State.

Reason for constituting a three-bench to revisit S. Subramaniam Balaji's judgment:

Although the crucial questions on freebies have been answered substantially in the previous judgments. However, in the present petition, a new issue has been posed, namely, the potential for freebies to undermine public finances. What is to stop a political party from promising freebies to get elected and leave behind a bankrupt economy? That seems to be the motivation for having a three-judge Bench revisit S. Subramaniam Balaji.

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