From Direct Transfers To Loan Waivers, Here’s How Poll Panel Defines ‘freebies’

An Election Commission analysis of manifestos of different parties contesting the 2014 general elections disclosed that a significantly large number of clauses related to freebies/welfare (nearly 43 per cent) had offered direct transfers, either monetary or through policy initiatives, along with promises of assets and food subsidies targeted at the poor.

The Commission in its report found that promises made in the manifestos of political parties include items such as land, gold coins, cash, land and constructed homes, free cattle. The poll panel said such doles are aimed at targeted groups of the electorate — BPL families, weaker sections of the society, women, handicapped, among others — as well as the whole electorate.

According to the categorisation of freebies by the report, the freebies handed out by the central and state governments included Direct Transfers 43 per cent, Assets 12 per cent, Food 6 per cent, Subsidies 6 per cent, Loan Waiver 5 per cent and Loans 2 per cent.

A total of 17 manifestos were analysed by the ECI to find out if they contained schemes which were freebies or genuine welfare measures. Its report titled ‘Narrative & Statistical Report: General Election to Lok Sabha, 2014’ was released in September 2018.

“Some cases could be categorized as either freebie or welfare measure,” the Commission noted. “The manifestos were divided into six categories depending upon the type of promises made in them. These categories were tangible assets (like promise of land to landless labourers etc.), direct transfers either monetary (like packages, financial support, scholarships) or promise of policies and schemes of direct transfer, promise of loans and loan waivers, subsidies and food (like provision of free or subsidized food).”

The poll panel report pointed out that some usual freebie items promised were laptops/tablets, grinders, mixers, fans, gold coin, cash transfers, land and constructed houses, cash for all unemployed youngsters, and livestock. These were targeted at urban and rural youth, marginalized sections, farmers, women and senior citizens and tribals.

The poll panel analysis also suggested that a significantly large number of clauses of freebies/welfare (nearly 43 per cent) had offered direct transfers, either monetary or through policy initiatives along with promises of assets and food subsidies targeted at the poor.

Apart from the political debates, the issue of freebies promised by political parties is also being heard in the Apex Court.

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana recently acknowledged that the impact of freebies promised by political parties on the country’s fiscal health was “a serious issue” but said he was not in favour of derecognising any party over it because that would be “anti-democratic”.

Considering a plea seeking directions to the Election Commission of India to not permit political parties to promise freebies during election campaigns, the Supreme Court this past Thursday stressed on creating a balance between the welfare state and the economic strains on the public exchequer.

“The economy losing money and the welfare of people, both have to be balanced. That’s why this debate and there must be someone to put thoughts to the vision,” the CJI said.

On August 3, the Court had opined that an expert body consisting of various stakeholders, such as the NITI Aayog, Finance Commission, Law Commission, Reserve Bank of India, as well as members of the ruling and opposition parties would be required to give suggestions to address the issue of promise of freebies during election campaigns.

To enable the Court to pass an order for the constitution of such a body, the Bench directed the petitioner, Central Government and the Election Commission of India to give suggestions.

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