“Distribution of free rice and other such (freebie) government schemes has made people of Tamil Nadu lazy and as a result workers had to be brought in from Northern States even for menial works” as told and asserted by the Division Bench of Justice N. Kirubakaran and Justice Abdul Quddhose yesterday in Chennai High Court. This was said while hearing a Habeas Corpus petition moved by an accused in a rice smuggling case, challenging his detention, as unlawful, under the Goondas Act. The Court categorically said that they were not averse to the distribution of rice, free of cost to economically backward people. But the issue here is that the free rice and other freebie schemes being distributed to all, irrespective of their status.

In the findings while hearing, it was brought to the Court’s notice that, for the year 2017-2018 alone, amount spent on free distribution was 2,110 crores, which is a very huge amount by all means, which ought to have been spent on other facilities’ like infrastructure building and other amenities. Government spends more than 2000 crores on freebies and the money spent under this head would be like capital loss, this expenditure is recurring every year and it would tantamount to recurring capital loss, though it serves the people, the court observed.

If the free rice scheme benefits people other than poor, it would amount to unjustly enriching other people at the cost of the public exchequer. Free rice should be given to families below poverty line (BPL), the bench added. The Court directed the Government to file a report whether any survey had been conducted to identify BPL families. If so, how many families were below the poverty line, in Tamil Nadu? Assuming if rice was distributed only to those people below the poverty line, what would be the volume required and the budget needed? The court questioned, to which Advocate General Vijay Narayan sought time to get instructions on whether the scheme could be amended, so that those above the poverty line could be excluded from the free rice scheme.

While recording the submission, the bench said that the state had to provide bare necessities such as rice and other groceries to the needy. But successive governments had extended the benefits to all for their political benefits. It is also to be seen, what is given as free rice is being sold back to the ration shops by the people who don’t need the free rice at all. How the problem could be tackled, is to fix the income level below which the free rice can be availed, thereby people whose income are more can’t avail this facility. Government should bring in stringent measures to curb the free rice scheme being misused by one and all.

In Tamil Nadu most of the labourers in construction, hotels, security, domestic cooks, only north Indians are seen and it is true that they are dominating the labour industry, leaving the locals jobless. In the long run what would happen is, when the local youths are unemployed they would resort to crime, because their livelihood is in question. Unless they equip themselves to be skilled, not hesitate to do any work which comes their way, without seeing it as a menial work, change their stance and attitude at par with north Indians, their survival will be in peril. At this juncture, the rule of the game is, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.

-Vijayashree Ramesh

The writer is an advocate based at Chennai.