Tamil Nadu's ruling DMK has filed a petition in the Supreme Court in the ongoing case about "freebies", contending that the scope of the term is very wide and "there are a lot of aspects which need to be considered". The court is hearing a petition that has challenged the promise of freebies at election time, contending that this practice can bring financial ruin on a state. So far, Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, known for providing free power and water in the states it rules, has challenged the stance of the petition, which was filed by the BJP's Ashwini Upadhyay.
Tamil Nadu is one of the states where the use of freebies at election time has been traditional, cutting across party lines. Sometimes, even before the elections, clothes, food and household items have been distributed among the people, in violation of model code.
After elections, successive governments have provided heavy subsidies on food and other items. Opposition AIADMK's late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was known for her "Amma canteens" where a full meal can be had for a few rupees.
Chief Minister MK Stalin's DMK, too, has introduced various welfare schemes for the people of Tamil Nadu including rice at Re 1 a kg, free distribution of colour television sets to poor households and free bus passes to women.
In its petition today, DMK argued that a welfare scheme introduced by a state government cannot be judged to be classified as a freebie.
"The ruling government at the Union giving tax holidays to foreign companies, waiver of bad loans of influential industrialists, granting crucial contracts to favoured conglomerates etc. also have to be considered and cannot be left untouched," the petition read.
"This court cannot have a restrictive approach for classifying any scheme or act by the Union/State Legislature to be a 'freebie' without considering the magnitude of resultant consequences and social welfare at both micro and macro level," the DMK contended.
The petition also said that in a welfare scheme, free services are introduced with an intent to secure social order and economic justice under the Constitution's Article 38 "to minimise the inequalities in income, status, facilities and opportunities".
"In no imaginable reality, it could be construed as a 'freebie'," the petition read.
In one of the earlier hearings, the bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, had said provision of freebies were a serious economic issue and the "freebie budget" at election time goes above regular budget.
The Bench had asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines in the matter. But the poll panel had responded that in the absence of a law, it cannot regulate promises by political parties to give out freebies if elected to power.
Arvind Kejriwal's AAP has filed a petition in court, with arguments similar to the DMK.
The schemes for the socio-economic welfare of the deserving and disadvantaged masses cannot be described as "freebies", the ruling party of Delhi and Punjab contended in its petition. It also alleged that the petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay was trying to achieve a political agenda by legal means.
The Centre has also shown disapproval for the freebie culture and said there should be a proper debate on the issue.