As the freebies politics debate return to the spotlight, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Tuesday cautioned against announcement of populist measures by political parties on the eve of elections, and said the "freebie culture" has led to deteriorating financial health of many states.
The remarks by Naidu in his last address as the country's Vice President came even as Telangana's ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi RS said the welfare of poorer sections of society is not a freebie and that welfare measures taken by governments should continue.
Naidu demits office on Wednesday at the end of his five-year term.
Firing a fresh salvo at those calling the government's welfare schemes as "freebies", Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal advocated making free education, world-class healthcare and employment for all as fundamental rights, saying these are not freebies but the duty of a responsible government.
Meanwhile, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court submitting that an economic impact assessment is essential before distribution of freebies, and sought constitution of a committee of experts to examine the practice without adequacy of budgetary provisions.
Addressing Indian Information Service officers of 2018 and 2019 batches in Delhi, Naidu said the government should definitely support the poor and needy, but at the same time should prioritise health, education and infrastructure development.
Naidu's remarks came against the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently cautioning people against what he called as 'revdi culture' where poll freebies are offered to woo voters, and called it "very dangerous" for the development of the country.
The Supreme Court had on August 3 also asked stakeholders like the Centre, Niti Aayog, Finance Commission and the RBI to brainstorm on the "serious" issue of freebies announced during elections and put forth constructive suggestions to tackle this practice, saying no political party will oppose such handouts or like to debate it in Parliament.
Cautioning against the populist measures to garner votes by various political parties, Vice President Naidu said the freebie culture has led to deteriorating financial health of many states.
"Government should definitely support the poor and needy, but at the same time should prioritize health, education and infrastructure development," Naidu said, according to a statement issued by the Vice President's Secretariat.
In a press release issued in Hyderabad, TRS MLC Kavitha Kalvakuntla, daughter of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, said it is the responsibility of the elected government, state or central, to take care of the poor.
Observing that there is now a trend of terming welfare schemes as freebies, she alleged that the Centre is putting pressure on the state government to stop the schemes.
The TRS is opposing this, she said, adding its government in Telangana runs about 250 welfare schemes.
"Because, welfare of any poor person is the responsibility of the government and the atmosphere that is being created across the nation today, saying that welfare is freebie is not correct," said Kavitha.
Writing off debt to the tune of crores of rupees is the actual freebie, she added.
"I believe a freebie is what BJP government has now done. It has written off Rs 10 lakh crore of debt of fraudulent agencies. That is freebie. Welfare for weaker sections is never a freebie. It is our social obligation, of the government's too..."
The nation is a diverse one, and it is the government's responsibility to help the poorer sections to break the cycle of poverty and help them progress, Kavitha said.
The state governments are working towards helping the poor, and the Central government should not place hindrances to that, she added.
Chief Minister Kejriwal's reiteration of his views on welfare schemes came as he hoisted the 500th national flag installed by his AAP government in the national capital.
"We have to pledge to develop such a system where free excellent education, world-class healthcare and 100 per cent employment become fundamental rights of the citizens," he said at an event.
Stressing on providing the best possible healthcare treatment to every citizen of the country and employment to youth, Kejriwal said the country can't progress until these basic necessities aren't fulfilled.
"But it pains me to see people slander this school of thought by saying that the provision of free education must be stopped. I want to assert that giving quality education or public health care for free is not a freebie. It is a duty of a responsible government," the Aam Aadmi Party supremo said.
Good education, healthcare and employment should be considered fundamental rights, and not called freebies, he added.
The Public Interest Litigation filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay in the apex court sought action against political parties for irrational freebies.
Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, on behalf of the petitioner, submitted that two highest economic bodies of the country have expressed concern over long term impact on distribution of freebies by states without proper fiscal and budgetary management.
"It is submitted that state governments have been borrowing money even when the loan from Government of India is outstanding without complying with requirements of Article 293(3) and (4). It is necessary to have a strict enforcement of these provisions including a 'system of credit rating' being introduced for grant of credit facilities to the state government," the submissions, filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey, stated.
The petitioner sought constitution of a committee of experts to examine the practice of making poll commitments involving financial resources without adequacy of budgetary provisions and suggest remedial measures.