Freebies or Revdi Culture in India
- “You cannot prevent a political party or individual from making promises that are aimed at fulfilling this constitutional mandate if elected to power. The question is what exactly qualifies as a valid promise,” the CJI observed.
- The average national income of the Indian adult population is Rs 2,04,200. Here, the bottom 50% of earns Rs 53,610 while the top 10% earns Rs 11,66,520, over 20 times more. In India, the top 10% and top 1% hold 57% and 22% of the total national income respectively while the share of the bottom 50% has gone down to 13%
- “As rightly pointed out by some of you, Article 38 (2) of the Constitution mandates the State to ‘strive to minimize inequalities in income, and endeavor to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities, and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.
- PM said, “This Revdi culture (or the freebies culture) is dangerous for the development of the country. Those with Revdi culture will never build new expressways, new airports, or defence corridors for you. Together, we have to defeat this mentality, remove Revdi culture from the politics of the country.”
- Does something stop being a freebie because it has the approval of the Centre? Experts broadly agree that states should be free to decide on freebies if it has the money. The problem arises when states dole out freebies, merit or non-merit, beyond their fiscal capabilities.
History of Freebies or Revdi Culture
- During the 2006 state elections, the DMK stepped up its free game and offered colour televisions to voters.
- From then on, the whole cycle went haywire, with parties trying to come forward offering gas stones, cash, bits of land, and even maternity assistance.
- In 2015, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seized power in Delhi with a promise to provide a certain amount of free water and electricity to the people.
- In 2021, Thulam Saravanan, an independent candidate from Madurai in the Tamil Nadu elections, promised that those who voted for him would receive helicopters and cars, Rs 1 crore per household, gold, domestic robots, 100-day trips to the moon, and even, artificial icebergs to keep the residents of their constituency “cool”.
What is Revdi culture or freebies?
- The dictionary meaning of the word gift is something given to you for free. So free energy, health care, and education can technically be counted as a gift. However, the actual meaning depends on who you ask and the time and place. We also need to define what a “freebie” is. By definition, a gift is something that is given or provided free of charge. So free energy, health care, and education can technically be counted as a gift.
- As the Electoral Commission has explained, gifts were a term open to subjective interpretation and did not have precise legal definitions. For example, during a natural disaster or pandemic, providing life-saving medicine, food, or funds can save lives, but in regular times, they may be referred to as gifts.
- A report by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has stated that the gifts are not worthwhile goods or expenses, such as the public distribution system, employment guarantee schemes and state support for educational and health facilities. It states that the gifts are provisions for free electricity, water or transportation, in addition to the exemption of utility bills and outstanding loans, and other similar benefits.
- Given the ambiguity, 15th Finance Commission Chairman NK Singh in a recent column said there was a need to distinguish freebies from merit goods, expenditure on which brings economic benefits, such as the public distribution system, employment guarantee schemes and states’ support for education and health.
Rule of Central Government Act on gifts or Freebies
Central Government Act Section 123 in The Representation of the People Act, 1951
- Corrupt practices.—The following shall be deemed to be corrupt practices for the purposes of this Act:— 1[
(1). “Bribery”, that is to say—
(A) any gift, offer or promise by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent of any gratification, to any person whomsoever, with the object, directly or indirectly of inducing—.
- (a) a person to stand or not to stand as, or 2[to withdraw or not to withdraw] from being a candidate at an election, or
- (b). an elector to vote or refrain from voting at an election, or as a reward to—
- (i). a person for having so stood or not stood, or for 3( having withdrawn or not having withdrawn] his candidature; or .
- (ii) an elector for having voted or refrained from voting;
Who Pay for these Gift or Freebie?
- The debate on freebies also needs to be looked at from the perspective of income of states. As the Centre imposed more cesses, the share of tax revenue that the Centre gives them has dropped. The end of Centre’s GST compensation payout has further reduced the headroom available with states for social sector expenditure.
- The Supreme Court, too, should stick to its normal posture of not getting embroiled in political thickets. The court may, at best, nudge all stakeholders into a new model code of conduct which defines freebies and regulates their use in elections. The existing model code was also adopted with the assent of all political parties, and there is no reason to suppose that political parties cannot formulate a similar agreement on the usage of freebies in elections.
Why there is a Need for Freebies?
- Facilitates growth: There are some examples showing that some expenditure disbursements have general benefits, such as the Public Distribution System, employment guarantee schemes, support for education and improved disbursements for health, particularly during the pandemic.
- Helpless developed states: With states having a comparatively lower level of development having a higher proportion of the population suffering from poverty, these types of gifts are based on need/demand and it becomes essential to offer people such allowances for their own elevation.
- Essential to meet expectations: In a country like India where the states have (or do not have) a certain level of development, at the time of the elections, there are expectations on the part of the people that are met by such promises of gifts.
- Help Less Developed States: In States that are lacking in development, gifts are based on need/demand and it becomes essential to offer people such subsidies for their own betterment.