It is unfair to generalise and describe welfare programmes as “freebies”, Andhra Pradesh’s ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party told the Supreme Court on Wednesday, reported The New Indian Express.

Party General Secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Vijaya Sai Reddy made the statement on a plea seeking to intervene in the hearing on a public interest litigation by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Upadhyay, seeking directions to the Election Commission to not allow political parties to promise “freebies” during poll campaigns.

Before this, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, Tamil Nadu’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Congress had filed intervention applications seeking that the court should hear their stand on the matter.

In her petition, Reddy said that it is the fundamental responsibility of the governments to mitigate health and education inequities as well as rural and urban disparities.

“Our country is a welfare state and the Union and state governments are tasked with taking measures that ensure that the egalitarian goals set by the framers of the Constitution are attained,’’ he said.

Reddy said that in order to achieve these goals, the state governments need to incur substantial expenses.

“The decision on the type and the magnitude of the intervention to effectively address core issues and alleviate distress is that of the elected government,’’ the petition said.

The plea added that Upadhyay chose to refer to welfare schemes as “freebies” without considering the government welfare schemes. The petition, however, said any scheme that is implemented with the aim of luring voters should be termed as “freebies”.

Reddy said that strict action should be taken against ruling parties that force the governments to disburse scheme-related benefits to voters just ahead of elections, reported The Hindu.

He said that YS Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government’s welfare measures are aimed at bringing relief to Andhra Pradesh that is suffering from the widespread economic deprivation caused by the bifurcation in 2014.

“Owing to the inequitable reorganisation, the successor State of Andhra Pradesh inherited 58% of the combined State’s population but only 45% of the combined State’s revenues,” he added. “Added to this, the policy paralysis in the State during the period 2014-’19 has resulted in many crucial sectors such as education, health and agriculture demonstrating poor performance.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Supreme Court said that it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between “freebies” and social welfare schemes.

“The question is what constitutes right promises?” Chief Justice NV Ramana asked. “Can we describe the promise of free education as a freebie? Can free drinking water, minimum essential units of powers etc. be described as freebies? Can consumer products and free electronics [be] described as welfare?”

On August 11, Ramana had orally observed that there was a difference between “freebies” announced by political parties and social welfare schemes of governments.

On August 3, the court had suggested that an expert body consisting of various stakeholders such as the government, the NITI Aayog, the Finance Commission, the Law Commission, the Reserve Bank of India, and members of the Opposition should be formed to give their suggestions on the matter.

Also read:

The India Fix: Rather than vilify ‘freebies’, India must ask why they are so popular with voters

All parties promise freebies: Ex-chief economic advisor

Meanwhile, former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian on Wednesday said that all political promise freebies and neither of them have the “moral high ground” on the debate, reported NDTV.

He also criticised the governments for failing to cater to citizens’ basic needs such as health and education.

In an interview, Subramanian told NDTV the term “freebies” has been stigmatised due to the bias of the middle class for the support given to the poor. “What gets overlooked are the freebies the middle class gets in spades,” he added.

Subramanian said he would not describe the welfare schemes as “freebies”. “Many of these things were actually called basic needs – housing, power, connectivity through bank accounts and so on,” he told the news channel.

The former chief economic advisor also said that no one can win this debate as “one man’s freebie is another’s essential need”.

For instance, he cited subsidised power given to farmers. “It can be life blood to him but for an environmentalist, it would be a pretty alarming thing,” Subramanian added.