Monday, 5 December, 2022
HomeOpinionNot ‘freebies’ –Tamil Nadu has given India a market-friendly Dravidian welfare model

Not ‘freebies’ –Tamil Nadu has given India a market-friendly Dravidian welfare model

As the ‘freebie’ debate again reaches the Supreme Court, Indian states should get to decide how to best use their resources for welfare.

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This is the story of Tamil Nadu – the state that has given India a unique template. One, by pursuing targeted welfare schemes, often dismissed as ‘freebies’, and two, by pursuing economic growth through market forces. The state shows that the twin track is possible.

On welfare, Tamil Nadu ‘Dravidian model’ has been hailed. But the freebie debate has reached the Supreme Court again.

This is how this model works.

– When a girl child is born, the state makes a fixed deposit of Rs 50,000 for her, which she can withdraw when 18. In case the family has two girl children, each gets Rs 25,000.

– She gets immunisation and hospital treatment free of cost.

– She goes to the public school on a government-provided bicycle. Sometimes she travels by the government bus and doesn’t need to buy a ticket.

– She gets free books, school bags and also a mid-day meal. After passing Class X, she will get a handsome amount from the state, so her parents don’t ask her to stop going to school.

– After school, she can go to a nearby college where education is again free. Her mother doesn’t ask her to spend time in the kitchen because they have a mixer grinder given by the state, which saves them time.

– If she is studying in a government school and secures admission to the IITs, the state takes care of the tuition fee. If she belongs to an SC/ST/OBC community and secures admission to a foreign university, she may get a government scholarship for educational expenses.

With these capacities provided to girls, Tamil Nadu achieves one of the best human development indices in India and a total fertility rate lower than the replacement level. The state has the highest number of working women in the country. These women are also empowered consumers and contribute to GDP and wealth creation.


Also read: ‘Freebies not bribes but shake root of fair polls’ — what SC said in 2013 order it plans to revisit


‘Freebie’ in the Supreme Court

Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin said this ‘Dravidian model’ can work for other states too. Now the Narendra Modi government and some economists are suggesting these government schemes and policies of building capacity and emancipating the citizen are “freebies.”  A BJP leader has filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court suggesting that the apex court should instruct the Election Commission to put a check on “freebies” because they have a bad impact on the economy and distort free and fair elections.

The petitioner and the Union government want the Supreme Court to review its judgment in the 2013 SM Subramaniam Balaji vs State of Tamil Nadu case. In that case, the court held that:

The promises made in the election manifesto cannot be read into Section 123 for declaring it to be a corrupt practice.

The mandate of the Constitution provides various checks and balances before a scheme can be implemented and the Court has limited jurisdiction to interfere in such schemes.

DMK lawyer and Rajya Sabha Member P. Wilson, in his written submission to the Supreme Court, objected to the word “freebie” in the petition and argued that “the State has to assure for all citizens a life of dignity, which includes basic amenities like food, clothing, education, health care and transport. These amenities cannot be called ‘freebies’ but are welfare schemes to ensure inclusive growth.”

Most of these electoral promises and welfare measures have their genesis in the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Constitution. For example, Article 38 (1) says: “The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.”


Also read: NEET to temples, Stalin’s Tamil Nadu has a new social justice formula — Mandal plus market


Hold up federal structure

Notwithstanding the fact that the Union government has certain controls over the state in terms of financial discipline, the states know how to use their resources better. India is a diverse country and a ‘one size fits all’ approach will certainly harm the federal structure of the Constitution.

The better way to go about the issue will be to let different models of development governance contest with each other and let the best one win. The state governments should be allowed to chart their own path according to the federal structure of the Constitution.

P Wilson also argued that in a country like India, the state has to play the role of some kind of leveler. He wrote, “Due to centuries of caste discrimination, where access to education and employment was restricted to a vast majority of this nation, and subsequent colonial rule, a vast majority of this nation is poor and downtrodden. They do not have access to basic amenities which the persons from generational wealth do.”

The constitutional idea of inclusive growth cannot be achieved without positive intervention of the state. It will not be easy for someone from a humble background to compete with someone who has generational wealth and capacities.


Also read: Three-judge SC bench to hear case of freebies promised by political parties


The capability approach

It is also important to note that the whole freebie debate is happening in the realm of capitalism and liberal democracy. It’s about the contestation between the ‘trickle down’ or utilitarian approach and capabilities approach. We can see that debate happening in India between Jagdish Bhagwati, Arvind Panagariya and Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze. I agree that there is no clear winner in this contest yet.

Interestingly, no capability approach theoreticians, including Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, is a Marxist. None of them are against the market playing a role in the economy. The capability approach, according to Martha Nussbaum, is both about the quality of life and justice. She argues that a human life, in order to reach its highest potential, must include a number of “capabilities” – that is, possibilities that one can realise in one’s life. These include the ability to live a life that is “worth living”.

I think that the Union government and the Supreme Court will not intervene in the natural course of the debate at this juncture.

Dilip Mandal is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

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