‘No straightjacket formula to decide what scheme could be considered freebie,’ DMK tells SC

Welfare schemes secure social order and economic justice to minimise the inequalities in income, status, and opportunities, the DMK said.

ByShilpa Nair

Published Aug 17, 2022 | 11:28 AMUpdatedAug 17, 2022 | 12:23 PM

MK Stalin freebies

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) on 16 August, Tuesday, filed an application before the Supreme Court seeking to implead itself in the case against the distribution of freebies by political parties using public funds and its adverse effects on the fiscal health of the country, as it believed that there was no straightjacket formula to decide what scheme could be classified as a “freebie”.

The DMK’s organising secretary RS Bharathi, who filed the plea on behalf of the party, pointed out that the apex court cannot have a restrictive approach in deciding what scheme or act passed by the Union or state legislatures is classified as a “freebie” as the scope of the term is very wide.

Asking why welfare schemes introduced only by state governments are classified as “freebies”, the party highlighted that the Union government giving tax holidays to foreign companies, waiving bad loans of influential industrialists, or granting crucial contracts to favoured conglomerates also have to be considered.

DMK bats for welfare schemes

The DMK stated that a welfare scheme providing a free service is introduced with an intent to secure social order and economic justice under Article 38 to minimize the inequalities in income, status, facilities and opportunities.

“In no imaginable reality could it be construed as a ‘freebie’,” the affidavit read.

Citing the example of providing free electricity, the DMK argued that it could have a multidimensional effect on a poor household: It could provide lighting, heating, and cooling, resulting in a better standard of living. It could also facilitate a child’s education.

“A welfare scheme, therefore, can have a wide reach and multiple intentions behind its introduction and the cascading effect arising from it cannot be defined in a restrictive meaning as a freebie,” the party stated in its plea.

Further, the DMK submitted that welfare schemes are policy matters of the government, which are barred from judicial review.

It referred to an earlier order of the Supreme Court where it held that, on matters affecting policy and requiring technical expertise, “unless the policy or action is inconsistent with the Constitution and the laws or arbitrary or irrational or abuse of power, the court will not interfere in such matters”.

The DMK also drew attention to the fact that the Constitution empowers the state governments under the Concurrent and State Lists to promulgate welfare schemes.

“Therefore, the term ‘freebies’ cannot be interpreted in such a way that interferes with the state’s competence under Schedule VII,” the party stated.

Grounds cited

Justifying the need to implead the DMK as a party in the case, the plea said that the petitioner in the case has only made the Union of India and the Election Commission of India the respondents despite the fact that the writ petition blamed political parties in power in the states for distributing “freebies”.

“The Union of India is not the stakeholder in the present proceedings… Therefore, it was imperative for the Petitioner to implead such parties (those in power in states) as respondents… to consider the interests of all stakeholders representing diverse regions,” the DMK submitted.

The party also claimed that the petition regarding “freebies” was of great public importance and had pan-India ramifications as different schemes have been promulgated targeting different population demographics.

“Any order passed by this Hon’ble Court in the present proceeding can have a cascading effect and affect the governance at the grass root level,” the ruling party in Tamil Nadu argued.

In the plea, RS Bharathi submitted to the court that the DMK is a party that propagates social justice and equality, and works towards the upliftment of individuals belonging to oppressed backward classes through Constitutional means.

The party also said that it had introduced various welfare schemes for the people of Tamil Nadu such as rice at only ₹1 per kg, free distribution of colour television sets to poor households, and free bus passes to women for uplifting the poor.

Even recently, the Tamil Nadu government launched the first phase of the Chief Minister’s Free Breakfast Scheme, which aims to provide free nutritious breakfast for government-school students of Classes I-V on all working days.

The Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal has also filed a similar plea in the Supreme Court.