Who wants freebies?'

Print edition : April 22, 2011

When free colour television sets were distributed in Krishnagiri on February 26. - N. BHASKARAN

CONTRARY to the common belief that voters, more particularly those in the below-poverty-line category, crave freebies, a vast majority of people, both in the urban and in the rural areas, have developed an aversion to announcements of this kind made in election manifestos.

The DMK, the AIADMK and the Bharatiya Janata Party have announced freebies in their manifestos for the Assembly elections. They range from mixers, wet grinders, fans and laptops to goats and cows for the poorest of the poor.

It may be hard for the urban elite to believe that the awareness level among farmhands, manual labourers, unorganised sector workers, tailors, street vendors and small and marginal farmers is so high that they see the host of freebies thrust on them only as an attempt to hoodwink them and get their votes.

There is not an iota of doubt in their minds that resources for the promised largesse have to come from the government's coffers and that the announcements will only have an adverse effect on the livelihood of the poor.

S. Siddappa, a septuagenarian of Ramanthotti village in Krishnagiri district, owns a small piece of land. During the last elections, some persons approached him with a cash for vote offer. He rejected it, he claimed. In the past few years, he moved heaven and earth to get his old-age pension. But to date there has been no indication of him being a beneficiary.

A retired employee of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board at Gobinathampatti in Harur said, I have been a sympathiser of the DMK for long. The present government has introduced various welcome welfare measures. But the way in which the freebies are being doled out will definitely harm the interest of the downtrodden masses, particularly in the underdeveloped areas. Instead, the government should come forward to set up small and medium agro-based industries or units that can be run with locally available raw materials and can provide employment to the local people.

G. Kumar, chairman of the Chengam panchayat union and a Congress activist, said freebies were meaningless. He said if at all these parties were really interested in the welfare of the downtrodden, they should strive to initiate projects such as setting up BPOs after providing soft-skills training, basic computer education and spoken English coaching to rural youth.

In Mettukosalai hamlet in Tiruvannamalai district, Suseela (name changed), a farm worker, asked, Who wants all these freebies when we need basic infrastructure? Though the government is implementing the Re.1 a kg scheme to supply 20 kg rice through the public distribution system, people have to shell out a big share of their little earnings on vegetables and groceries, she said. They cannot hoodwink me anymore. I know that the value of my vote is more than Rs.1 crore, she added.

C. Kuppan, a gardener residing in the Dalit colony of the same area, said, It is true that the government has provided us free cooking gas connections. However, we have to spend Rs.375 on the gas cylinder and Rs.100 on transportation as the gas distributing agency is about 10 km from the hamlet.

There is a limit

A. Panneerselvam, a lorry driver of Veppur village in Vellore district, said, There is a limit for freebies. It is unfair that even some well-off people try to garner the benefits. There are also irregularities in choosing the beneficiaries for the old-age pension scheme.

D. Chellamma, an Arunthathiar woman of Karimangalam in Palacode constituency, said the residents of the fluorosis-affected village were able to draw drinking water from the panchayat tap only once in eight days. Let the government help us by attending to this problem instead of focussing on freebies, she said.

Ratnamma of Theertham village in Veppanahalli constituency has a peculiar problem. She is one of the recipients of the colour television sets distributed by the DMK government. But she has not opened the pack yet as her home has not yet got an electricity connection.

Residents of several villages such as Anukkampattu, Killai, Elleri and Lalpet in Cuddalore district, Vikravandi in Villupuram district, Theertham, Veppanahalli and Balinampalli in Krishnagiri district and Bargur in Dharmapuri district also prefer development schemes to freebies.

S. Dorairaj
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