‘Freebies or not, need to budget for spends’

NEW DELHI: Amid the debate over freebies, 15th Finance Commission chairman N K Singh on Tuesday said that governments, at the Centre and states, need to transparently budget for support offered by them even as they argue on how it should be classified.
“Freebies are being mis-understood in the public domain. Health, education and infrastructure have wider externalities and need to be financed,” Singh said at an event to launch a book he has co-authored with P K Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister. Pressed further, he later said that certain states were resorting to cross-subsidisation as it was not budgeted for adequately in their books. At the event, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that a debate was required but refused to speak further on the issue.
The debate was triggered after PM Narendra Modi spoke of the “revadi” culture, or handing out doles, before elections, arguing it is dangerous for the country’s development. The issue of freebies had been taken to the Supreme Court by BJP members, while Opposition parties argued that the issue should be left to the legislature.
The PM’s comments are seen to have come as political parties were handing out TV sets, washing machines, farm loan waivers and free power following poll promises. Economists have argued that several of these sops were not just bad for the economy and the fiscal health of the government but also impacted the environment adversely.

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