As the debate over freebies heat up, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said the aim of the Modi government is to empower everyone through saturation of the existing welfare schemes as every Indian citizen deserves access to basic facilities.
"Every Indian citizen deserves to have access to basic facilities without getting beholden to anybody. Our approach is one of empowerment through saturation of existing schemes rather than that of entitlement," she said at an event in Bengaluru.
Saturation of the welfare scheme means that all entitled beneficiaries get the facilities. "If you have reached all of them who are eligible for something then you have achieved saturation…there have been so many attempts to make the lives of the poor better in the last 75 years," she said at the release of the 100th edition of Economic Newsletter of BJP Karnataka.
"The difference between all the garibi hataos (slogans) of the world and now…the approach to development that Prime Minister Narendra Modi employs, even as he brings in schemes that benefit the needy people, is by the principle of saturation so that they cover everybody eligible," she said. Garibi Hatao was the slogan of the Congress under the leadership of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the 1971 election campaign.
The Finance Minister's statement assumes significance as political parties are sparring over freebies. The opposition parties led by AAP called for a referendum on spending taxpayers' money on healthcare and education. Earlier this week, Sitharaman attacked Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for giving a "perverse twist" to the debate on freebies, saying the AAP leader putting education and health in that category is an attempt to create fear in the minds of the poor.
"No Indian government has ever denied them since Independence. So, classifying education and health as freebies, Kejriwal is trying to bring in a sense of worry and fear in the minds of the poor," she had said. Joining the debate DMK leader and Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin on Saturday said that expenditure incurred by the government on education and healthcare cannot be construed as freebies.
In an apparent reference to Modi, Stalin said, "some people have now newly emerged with the advice there should be no freebies. We are not bothered about that. If I talk more, it will become politics. So I don't want to talk more about this." The Prime Minister has in recent days hit out at the competitive populism of extending 'rewaris' (freebies) which are not just a wastage of taxpayers' money but also an economic disaster that could hamper India's drive to become atmanirbhar (self-reliant).His comments were seen directed at parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which have in the run-up to the assembly elections in states like Punjab and more recently Gujarat promised free electricity and water, among others. Sitharaman also pointed out that the government is ensuring that those who've cheated the banks and have gone away are being pursued relentlessly, that their properties are auctioned and money is given back to the banks in a continuous manner.