Free Ration Scheme – Admission of Collective Failure By Political Parties And Policymakers

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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There are an estimated 80 crore beneficiaries of the free ration scheme which is a little less than half of our population.

The Internet and social media platforms have a surfeit of videos emerging on a variety of subjects, there are very few which hit you as thought provoking and make you sit up. One such video recently was a reaction being given by a coolie to a small-time media outlet. The video did not appear to be an enacted one with the man wearing the typical coolie’s red shirt.

He was asked a question regarding the recent announcement by the prime minister that the free ration scheme was being extended by another five years. There are an estimated 80 crore beneficiaries of the scheme which is a little less than half of our population.

The coolie raised a pertinent point. He said it was unfortunate that such a large population had to be supplied free ration even after over 75 years of our independence.

That was a long enough period to lift the population above the poverty line so that they didn’t have to depend on free rations for survival. He didn’t blame any particular government or party for the situation but he was obviously telling the truth.

And then he made another important point. He said it was equally unfortunate that the scheme had to be extended by five years because the government appears to have admitted that it won’t be able to do so in the next five years.

He said perhaps the prime minister should have declared that there would be no need to dole out free ration as enough measures would be taken to pull people above the poverty line when they would not require free rations for survival. The least that can be done is to reduce the number of such beneficiaries by generating more jobs and other opportunities.

That’s indeed what is required and it is a poor reflection on our society and nation that we have failed to improve the standard of living of the poor. In fact as several surveys show, the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening.

freeWith the crucial general elections coming closer, political parties have been announcing all kinds of freebies under the garb of social welfare measures. It is not a new phenomena but the scope and size of such activities is increasing with each elections.

While all the major parties are into “revdi culture” as prime minister Narendra Modi had once described it, ironically the Bharatiya Janata Party is certainly leading other parties in announcing such freebies.

The major reason for it is obviously that it is the ruling party at the Centre. The party’s government can announce measures while other parties can only make promises.

Similarly the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi and Punjab announced a monthly payment of Rs 1000 to all females above the age of 18 years.

The Congress government in Himachal Pradesh went a step further and declared monthly payout of Rs 1500 for all adult females. There are no exclusions on the basis of income or jobs. Therefore even the well to do women can also avail of the payment. Political parties in southern states had been also been generous in offering freebies in the garb of social welfare.

freebiesThe Supreme Court too had expressed its concern over political parties promising the moon before elections and announcing a vast range of promises to the electorate. It had asked the Election Commission to find ways to rein in the political parties through coercive methods.

However the Election Commission, rightly so, declined to be drawn into the issue saying it was for the legislature to decide on the competitive promises by rival political parties and leaders.

To the question whether the various kinds of subsidies and welfare schemes should be altogether banned, the answer is an emphatic no. Given the inequalities in terms of economic and social growth in the country, there is a wide gap among the fortunes of the citizens.

Given the various factors, the country can not do justice by ending all subsidies and welfare schemes. A distinction however has to be made in doling out funds for genuine welfare measures and just for enamouring the voters.

To sum it up, the poor and the underprivileged deserve subsidies and schemes to uplift their lot. It has been our collective failure to have not been able to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich. However unproductive expenditure or promises leading to unproductive expenditure must be curtailed. Major political parties need to introspect on this issue. punjab


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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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