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Chennai, February 21, 2014

A slew of priceless goods and services will be given to people across Tamil Nadu to mark Chief Minister Jayalalithaas birthday on February 24. The State Government has already been handing out freebies such as grinders and table fans. Around 660 Special Medical Camps, started on February 17 will go on till February 24, offering free treatment for heart and lung-related ailments and cancer and general and plastic surgeries. Another 600 medical camps, catering to women and children only, promise free check-ups and vaccinations for pregnant women, financial assistance and check-ups for children under five. According to Justice K. Chandru, retired judge of the Madras High Court, provision of free and subsidised goods and services to the people has been on Tamil Nadus political agenda since long. In 1962-67, the state faced a severe rice shortage and the subsequent shooting up of prices. Rice imports were of poor quality. C.N.Annadurai, the founder of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(DMK), who became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1967 offered subsidised rice at the rate of three measures for Re.1. Since then, rice has always figured on the list of services provided by the subsequent parties coming to power . Justice Chandru emphasised that the term freebies used to denote such services had a negative connotation and hence priceless serves a better purpose. M.Dharmaraj, an AIADMK leader from Madurai , said, Priceless goods are given to all those who are green card holders. Each family usually receives a mixer-grinder and fan. Four goats and a cow are given to all those who have tie-ups with Aavin So-

ZINIA BHATTACHARYA

Continuing political trend in T.Nadu

MAKING SENSE OF FREEBIES


ciety. Justice Chandru explained how political parties zero down on the goods that appeal to the people. Previously, everybody had to go to the local shops to get spices grinded. Therefore, they chose to start out with mixer-grinders. Also, owing to the fact that the climate is mostly sultry, fans became a popular option. Dharmaraj said that before the assembly elections every five years, political parties announced the list of services that they would deliver if they came to power. In this context, Justice Chandru said, People definitely want to know what is in store for them if they vote a party to power. That is an incentive. Dr.K Nagaraj, Professor at the Asian College of Journalism believes that certain goods should be promised only when basic amenities are provided. Laptops are given to students because that is phenomenal and makes a splash among the masses whereas providing toilets, foodgrain and bicycles hardly do. It is the minimum responsibility of the government to improve the standard of living of the people such that they dont go hungry, he said. Dr. Jeya Ranjan, economist at the Institute of Development Alternatives emphasised against categorising goods as necessities or luxuries. After a hard days work, a farmer or a labourer deserves recreation. A priceless television set in this case does not qualify as a freebie, he said. Sometimes, members of political parties sponsor goods and services. Maalai Malar, a Tamil daily newspaper carried an advertisement stating that D.Jayakumar, MLA, Royapuram had arranged for gold rings for children who would be born at the R.S.R.M. Hospital, Royapuram on February 24th, 2014,the same day as Ammas birthday. The Tamil Nadu Governments decision to hand out freebies or priceless goods such as mixers, grinders and table fans has drawn a mixed response from econmists. Dr. Jeya Ranjan, economist at Institute of Development Alternatives, said Freebies is a term coined by the neoliberals while the rest view it as welfare schemes. The recent announcement of 37 per cent allocation for the social sector, increase in food subsidy to Rs.5,300 crore and no fresh taxes in the state budget, spells out the continuing importance given to welfare schemes and freebies by the Tamil Nadu government. Dr. Venkatesh Athreya, advisor to M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation said, Freebie is often referred to as tax breaks. Shelling out freebie makes the working force lazy according to neoliberals. Dr. K Nagaraj, Professor at Asian College of Journalism, said Freebies cannot be seen in isolation. Freebies range from tax concessions given to the corporates in the form of tax reduction to the laptops, mixer grinders and fans given to the people, he added. The freebies are funded through tax revenues. The total tax revenue of the country is 65 percent of indirect taxes and 35 percent from income and wealth based taxes. Speaking on the burden of indirect taxes on the poor (income is less than their consumption), Dr. Athreya said, The indirect taxes paid by poor and corporate help in subsidizing the welfare schemes. Subsidies provided on education and health (eg: free medical check-up) by the government come from the indirect taxes paid by the poor. Tax concession to the corporate sectors should also be treated

STATE OF AFFAIRS

THE WORD

SOURINA BEJ

Corporate tax cuts are also incentives

Distribution of free rice by AIADMK at Alwarpet

ZINIA BHATTACHARYA SOURINA BEJ

It is not an electoral malpractice


It is the duty of the Government to promote the welfare of the people below poverty line - Shekhar Naphade, senior counsel, TN

The city erupted in celebration on February 18 with LTTE supporters welcoming the Supreme Court order commuting the death sentence of three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case; but there were others who celebrated merely because they were against capital punishment. Today is a celebration for the verdict given by the Supreme Court against the death penalty of these three prisoners -- Perarivalan, Santhan and Murugan. It has been reduced to life sentence, said Senthil, Coordinator, Save Tamils Movement which is a self-proclaimed independent political movement comprising IT professionals. Our next demand is to release these prisoners; in fact the Supreme Court has also given a statement that the state government can do that if it wishes to do so; so now we are demanding the release of seven prisoners because all these are related to the Rajiv assassination case, he added. While Vardhini, an IT employee and a member of Save Tamils Movement said, I think they have served more than two life sentences, I think they should be released. In an email correspondence, Divya Iyer, death penalty expert and senior researcher, Amnesty International India, said, The positive rulings of commutations offer context and impetus for India to move towards a direction of a society that can be free of the death penalty. India must now do away

SURAKSHA P

Celebrations over verdict in Rajiv Gandhi case

Before the State Legislative Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in 2006, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(DMK), in its election manifesto, promised free colour television sets(CTVs) to all households that did not have one, if it were voted to power. The DMKs argument was that the CTVs would provide recreation to housewives and enhance awareness among rural women. Advocate S.Subramaniam Balaji filed a writ petition in April 2006 before the Madras High Court stating that the expenditure to be incurred by the State government for this purpose was unauthorised, impermissible and ultra vires the Constitutional mandates. Complaints were also forwarded to the Election Commission of India and to the Chief Election Officer, Tamil Nadu. Arvind P Datar, senior counsel of the appellant (Balaji) pointed out that the States funds, raised through taxation, could be used by

-the State to fulfil its constitutional functions only. He also stated that a gift or a promise by a candidate or his agent that could influence a voters decision would be a case of bribery under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Datar further pointed out that distributions in the form of necessities such as food or clothing served public purpose; distribution of CTVs only amounted to creation of private assets. Datars argument was based on

the fact that the Constitution of India does not allow the distribution of free consumer goods such as mixers, grinders and laptops as it only benefits the people receiving them and not everyone. Balaji highlighted that if the State resorted to the distribution of laptops instead of establishing Community Computer Centers or setting up Community Televisions at the Panchayat level, then it was a clear violation of Articles 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution. Shekhar Naphade, senior counsel for Tamil Nadu argued that according to the Directive Principles of the State Policy in Part 1V of the Constitution, it was the duty of the Government to promote the welfare of the people below poverty line (BPL). Later, when the petition was transferred to the Supreme Court, it was held that such schemes could nott be termed as corrupt in light of the Directive Principles. On July 5, 2013, the court ruled that Section 123 did not hold promises made in the election manifesto as corrupt and dismissed the appeal.

symmetrically with subsidies, said Dr. Athreya. According to the estimate provided by the state government, in the year 2013-14, the state expenditure on social services was 37 percent as against the tax revenue of 73 percent. Dr. Nagaraj said, There is nothing wrong in providing goods for free, but it should come with proper backing. One should provide proper teaching staff, low-cost electricity and clean water before providing free laptops, mixer grinders and mobile phones, he added. Providing mobile phones at subsidized rate to fisherfolks was a necessity. The mobile phones help them access information about weather, area of good catch or their location guidance through GPS, said Athreya. Public distribution of subsidized rice had an economic incentive as by providing nutrition-rich rice, one secured a productive workforce. Educating one by giving access to information and technology (laptop), one is preparing the future intelligentsia recruited by the corporates, said Dr. Nagaraj. For the corporates, freebies are an indication of goodwill and not profit. It is a simple transaction in public-private partnership. Every year after the government floats tenders, companies send their quotations; the lowest bidders are given the tender, said M R Murali Vice President of Orient Electronics which won the Rs. 35 lakh tender for fans and mixers last year. The production and the sale of the products are in accordance to the quoted amount, generally a price lower than the market price. There is no profit margin. The government pays the company the quoted amount from the government funds allocated through grants-in-aid or by the state budget, said M.R. Murali.

Arputhammal, Perarivalans mother

with the death penalty a cruel, inconsistent and irreversible form of punishment that has no proven deterrent effect on crime. For 67-year-old Arputhammal, mother of Perarivalan, one of the three convicts whose death sentence was commuted, it was a personal issue. Perarivalan was picked up as a 19-year-old by the CBI on 11 June 1991. His involvement in the assassination has always been contentious as human rights activists argued he bought the transistor without any knowledge of the plot. For the past 23 years, she had been waging a lone battle not only for her sons realease but also for the abolition of capital punishment, touring states, holding campaigns and running pillar to post from one court to another.

In January, she set up a stall in the Chennai Book Fair selling books and DVDs campaigning for the abolition of death sentence in India. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, cases like that of Devinder Singh Bhullar assume significance. Bhullar was convicted in the 1993 New Delhi bomb blasts which killed nine and injured five, including the Youth Congress President M S Bitta. Bhullar has sought a life term citing the inordinate delay in disposal of his mercy petition by the President and his mental illness as grounds for commutation of death penalty. He is still awaiting disposal of the petition. The book Lethal Lottery which is a study of the Supreme Courts judgements from 1952 to 2006 showed that the death penalty judgements were arbitrary, said V Suresh, an advocate and civil liberty activist. Its a lottery. Its all a matter of luck. Can you decide the fate of a person on the basis of luck? If you keep these grounds along with the tragedy and the victim, it is very difficult to resolve these things, he added. Studies showed that 70 to 80 percent of the crime took place out of sudden provocation and mental illnesses In India we do not have the jurisprudence as it exists in England and the US in which you reopen decided cases. Now whether this is a fit case for that, Im not so sure. he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is wooing minorities by organising a Minority Morcha convention at the AVM Kalyana Mandapam in Chennai on February 24. The convention aims at addressing the issues faced by minority communities such as the muslims and christians We aim at inclusion and this convention would take into consideration the interests of the minority groups that have not been represented by the state, says Munwari Begum, Vice-President of the BJPs Minority Morcha. K. Sarvothaman, BJP state secretary, said even the Muslim community wanted the BJPs prime minsterial candidate Narendra Modi to become the next prime minister. We are having talks with the PMK and DMDK and hopefully we will be successful in striking an alliance with these parties,he said. When asked whether the party would be tying up the newly-launched Tamil Manila Katchi(TMK), he said, Such parties are not important; If they want our support they will approach us. The TMK is a regional party which aims at establishing Hindi as a medium of education and protecting the interests of minorities including the Brahmin community. TMK chief R.C .Paul Kanagaraj says his party would canvass for the BJP only if it offered direct support to his party policies. A.S. Panneerselvam, Readers Editor, The Hindu, says The BJP wil try to garner the support of parties with vote share of more than 5 to 6 per cent. Parties like TMK might not be their immediate preference.

SREYASHI MAZUMDAR

Wooing minority votes

PHOTO: TEHELKA ARCHIVE.COM

PHOTO: WWW.PERARIVALAN.COM

The Chennai Corporation turning a blind eye to illegal hoardings has infuriated the people of Chennai. The corporation has formed a nexus with the political parties due to which it is not taking any serious steps to curb the problem. Political banners ruin the beauty of the city, said A.Ambethkar, a SAIL employee. Some people say these political posters tend to confuse the people. Many a times there are posters advertising a party which doesnt exist; also political parties tend to fool people and lure them through their banners, says Udhay Prakash,a student of Anna University. For some time now, 5th pillar, an international non-profit organization has been protesting against il-

SREYASHI MAZUMDAR

Inaction against illegal banners


Illegal political hoarding near Taramani. legal hoardings in Chennai. This particular organization uses the Zero Rupee Note (a program launched by the organization to curb bribery) and the RTI Act of 2005 to empower citizens to fight against corruption. The Corporation has always ignored the problem of illegal hoardings. We have decided to file a RTI, so that we get to know why the corporation is not taking any step, says Vijay Ananad, Director of 5th pillar, Chennai. Recently the Corporation decided to cancel the licences of those who printed illegal hoardings. Cancelling the licences of printers is not a solution. Printers are not at fault. Political parties and the officials of the corporation are to be blamed, says Vijay Anand, accusing some officials of being handin-glove with the political parties. Now days officials hardly take

any action. They are scared of losing their jobs or getting transferred due to which they give in to the wishes of political parties. According to orders passed by the state government, one needs to acquire permission from the district collector in order to put up a political hoarding. Further one needs to secure a no objection certificate from the police station of the particular area where the hoarding is to be set up. If these guidelines are flouted, the person can be imprisoned for a year or fined up to Rs 5000. K.R.Ramaswamy alias Traffic Ramaswamy, a social activist, says More than the politicians, officials are to be blamed. In spite of the orders passed by the state government, officials fail to take the required steps against the perpetrators who tend to break the rules.

PHOTO: SREYASHI MAZUMDAR