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The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, said the petition on “freebies” is politically motivated and asked if the BJP-led Union government’s move to waive off loans of companies is not freebies for the corporates.

In an application seeking to implead itself in the petition before the Supreme Court, the DMK cites the move to write off loans worth Rs 72,000 crore of the Adani Group in the first three years of the Narendra Modi government. “In the last five years, Rs 9.92 lakh crore loans were written off by banks out of which, Rs 7.27 lakh crore is the share of public sector banks alone. Is this not freebies for corporates?” the party asks in the application filed on Saturday, August 20, before the apex court.

The DMK said the petition, filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay, has focused only on “freebies” promised to marginalised sections of the society but has not taken into account “the massive loan waivers and tax holidays which were granted to corporates”.

The party strongly objected to the usage of the word “freebies” to describe welfare measures flowing from Part IV of the constitution. “If the petitioner is concerned with the burden on the public exchequer, the petitioner would have been equally concerned with tax breaks and loan waivers given to affluent corporates and high net worth individuals. However, the petitioner has remained blissfully ignorant of these waivers, which are 3-4 times bigger than the budget spent on welfare measures,” it said.

Tamil Nadu is known for its innovative welfare schemes including the distribution of televisions, cycles and laptops to those from the economically and socially weaker section

The party argued that welfare schemes can’t be looked at as “freebies” as they act as a strong catalyst to uplift the weaker sections.

Tamil Nadu is known for its innovative welfare schemes including the distribution of televisions, cycles and laptops to those from the economically and socially weaker section. In the application, the DMK seeks a response from the petitioner. What is the justification for wanting to prevent welfare measures like food, education and travel subsidies for the poor and downtrodden but continuing to give large tax breaks for corporates?

India’s status as a socialist economy means we need to prioritise public welfare by continuing schemes for the benefit of the weakest section of society, the ruling party has argued in its response. “To equate welfare spending to freebies culture is flawed analysis as the fiscal costs outweigh the larger societal benefits that these schemes have had over the years,” the response states.

In one of the earlier hearings, the bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had said the provision of “irrational freebies” was a serious economic issue and the “freebie budget” at election time goes above the regular budget. The bench had directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines in the matter. To this, the EC had responded that in the absence of a proper law, it cannot regulate promises by political parties to give out freebies if elected to power.

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To the court’s intervention, the response states that the constitution provides several checks and balances to ensure that the state does not mismanage the finances and argued that the court “cannot wade into policy-making” by the legislatures and elected representatives and implemented by governments. “To do so would be a gross breach of the demarcation of separation of powers,” the party claimed, in its response.

Before the DMK, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) filed an application in the court with similar contention.

The DMK lists various welfare schemes in its response – mid-day meal, free electricity to the agricultural sector, free housing to the Adi Dravidar community, Rs 5,000 for intercaste marriages, free healthcare in government hospitals, among others.

All these welfare measures have not made Tamil Nadu a poorer state, the DMK claims in the petition. “Instead, it has contributed to its development and reduced the high gap in income equality. These welfare schemes have been instrumental to propel the State of Tamil Nadu to be amongst the top 3 states in terms of GDP and industrialisation,” the party further states.

DMK’s organising secretary R.S. Bharathi, who is the petitioner, said that the core of the Dravidian movement’s ideology is the socio-economic upliftment of the backward, most backward and all other oppressed sections of the society.

Tracing the origin and rise of the Dravidian movement from the days of the Justice Party about a century ago, Bharathi told news agency PTI that opening up access to education to the marginalised and backward people was the first step taken by the Justice Party (JP) stalwart Thiagarayar (1852-1925).

Thiagarayar made education, books and lunch available to school students free of cost.

All these welfare measures have not made Tamil Nadu a poorer state, the DMK claims in the petition. “Instead, it has contributed to its development and reduced the high gap in income equality

“This encouraged students to go to schools. How can you refer to such initiatives as a freebie? Such initiatives have evolved over time. The lunch scheme eventually blossomed into a nutritious meal programme. Now, our chief minister M.K. Stalin has launched the breakfast scheme for school students,” Bharathi said. Only such schemes have broken social barriers and opened access to education to backward classes and others, which was once available only to a small section of people, he said.

Education was made available free of cost till the SSLC level during the times of former chief minister K Kamaraj. When DMK founder C.N. Annadurai assumed office, he ensured that it is open to students without cost till the pre-university level. “When Kalaignar (late chief minister M. Karunanidhi) became chief minister this was extended further till the level of graduation. This ensured that students from backward classes and oppressed sections of society pursued education…. Take the Rs 1,000 assistance scheme announced by our CM Stalin for girl students, this is women empowerment; this was the dream of social justice icon Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and forms the bedrock of Dravidian ideology,” he said.

(This article was first published in The Wire)


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