What is the job of the government? This is a broad question which has a broader answer: Welfare. Welfare of whom? Its citizens.
If we are asked to prioritise, on top we will and we should have the have-nots. The poor. The ones who cannot afford to spend even on basic necessities of life. The disadvantaged. For long the so-called elite and even middle class India has been raucously against reservations in educational institutes. What is happening in India is that the government is indulging in spoon-feeding people. The same is happening with the reservation in schools/colleges and the same is feared to happen with the Food Security Bill.
The vehement opposition of the FSB made me think whether we have added the term ‘Capitalist’ to ‘Sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic’ of India. Although you might argue that our sovereignty is compromised by neighbouring countries on a regular basis and we look on meekly, the government is privatising its companies, secularism is near farcical with the leaders of the who’s who of the Indian polity are smeared with communal blood and the freedom of expression is regularly curbed in the world’s largest democracy.
Isn’t it the job of the government to take care of its poor? In the name of economics, can you have a good night’s sleep thinking that you snatched food from people while you fine-dine night after night?
Just because the government’s missteps of the past couple of years has landed us in an economic jeopardy which is nearly unparalleled in the history of this nation, does this mean that the government should stop working towards the people who are likely to be the most affected in this complex economic crossfire?
The head of your family gets demoted, or worse, loses his/her job. Does this give them an excuse to stop providing for the family? No.
The high debt that the current government has run up cannot be an excuse to deprive people from their basic needs – food.
What the government needs to do is to get its act together and find money to fund this social welfare scheme.
Maybe the Food Security Bill will not wipe out hunger and malnutrition as envisaged by Sonia Gandhi. But does that mean you stop trying until you find the utopian wand?
Maybe this is a populist measure by the government to get votes in the elections next year. But by those standards, aren’t all welfare schemes populist?
Money has to be reallocated, moved and redeployed from higher up to the lowest common denominator. You tax the rich and subsidise the poor. What is wrong with it? Isn’t that the reason why our income-tax slabs go higher up as income goes up? Or the surcharge on the income of the rich that the government announced earlier this year? We saw the massive protests against those moves because the rich do not want to partake their money. But they want to poor to fend for themselves. Textbook capitalism.
To me, the question of the affordability of the Food Security Bill doesn’t even arise because this is a bill that has to be foot by someone.
The talk of inclusive growth is a hollow one unless the fruit of the GDP trickles down.
Of course footing this Food Security Bill is going to be expensive. But instead of debating its roll out, people and the industry should rather focus on ways to find money for it. The wasteful expenditures of the government need to stop.
This Hindu Business Line article explains that in 2012-13, the government of India forego a whopping Rs5,73,627 crore to the rich and the mighty. Why has this become an intricate part of our fiscal policy?
This report by India Spend shows how India gave away tax breaks to the tune of Rs5,33,582 crore or 67% of its tax collections in 2011-12. Is this a prudent tax policy in the current times?
Shouldn’t the people who can afford to pay taxes be told that the honeymoon is over?
Corporate India has come out in numbers to oppose the Food Security Bill and its implications on India’s current account deficit.
The government has said that the expenditure on the Bill will not exceed the already budgeted ?90,000 crore for the current fiscal. In 2011,12 alone, the revenue foregone from corporate India was ?61,765 crore. Shouldn’t they be first setting an example by asking the government to let go of this walking stick?
Just in two years’ time, from 2010-11 to 2012-13, the tax foregone has increased by over Rs1,00,000 crore. Why is the government leaning towards the rich with such aplomb?
The clout of the lobby of the gold traders and jewellers can be seen from the fact that they strike for three weeks straight to protest the government’s tax move earlier this year. Pranab Mukherjee, the then finance minister’s assurance to look into the rollback made them call off the strike.
Do the poor in India have the might of this kind to fight for their rights? Ponder.
Shubhashish is a journalist who is now pursuing Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy in London. Email: email@example.com
This column originally appeared in DNA on September 3, 2013.