Responding to criticism from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the so-called 'freebie culture', Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said health and education have "never been called freebies".
"The Delhi Chief Minister has given a perverse twist to the debate on freebies," Sitharaman told reporters on August 11.
"By classifying education and health as freebies, Kejriwal is trying to bring in a sense of worry and fear in minds of the poor," the finance minister added.
Sitharaman's comments came after Kejriwal held a media briefing earlier in the day and said the Centre's finances may not be in a good condition going by the manner in which it was speaking against free services. According to the Delhi chief minister, the Aam Aadmi Party's free programmes had helped poor people and ensured they received quality services such as health and education.
However, the finance minister slammed Kejriwal's comments, saying no Indian government had ever denied health and education to the people.
The battle of words comes after the Supreme Court's suggestion on August 3 that a panel be set up to discuss the issue of freebies announced ahead of elections. A three-judge bench of the apex court had asked the Centre, NITI Aayog, Finance Commission, and the Reserve Bank of India to brainstorm and make suggestions to tackle it.
While Sitharaman today said there should be a genuine debate on the subject, the setting up of a committee has attracted criticism from certain quarters.
"What clause in the Constitution empowers the Judiciary to set a framework for how current and future Executives shall (or shall not) spend the people's money?" Tamil Nadu Finance Minister P Thiaga Rajan tweeted on August 4.