Political parties know the art of turning heads in the weeks leading up to elections, be it general or state assemblies. One strategy that has been repeatedly used by almost all parties in India is promising freebies ranging from free rice, laptop, smartphone, television and several other items to the electorates. There are also schemes guaranteeing income for the poor. One such scheme that is already in place is the BJP’s Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) which was announced during the Interim Union Budget presented in February this year. The programme aims at providing a minimum income system for 12 crore marginal farmers in the country by giving them up to INR 6,000 per annum, which is estimated to cost INR 75,000 crore to the exchequer. Not to be left behind, the Congress party announced ‘Nyay’ scheme in its election manifesto for this year’s Lok Sabha poll. The scheme promises INR 72,000 per year to five crore families who constitute the poorest 20 percent of all families in the country. If implemented, it is estimated to cost INR 3.6 lakh crore per year to the exchequer, which is more than 1% of India’s GDP. The big question is: Will such welfare schemes and sops help in eradicating poverty permanently in the country?
Whether political parties are introducing sops with a genuine vision to fight poverty or just to gain votes is not known but such schemes will surely help many. India has made huge strides in fighting poverty in the last few decades, and the contribution of welfare schemes towards the cause cannot be denied. However, using schemes as a tool to eradicate poverty “permanently” is questionable. The fact is that successive governments have been talking about eradication of poverty for decades now and several welfare schemes have been implemented. But according to a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), more than 36 crore people in India continue to experience acute deprivations in health, nutrition, schooling and sanitation. This indicates that the fight against poverty is far from over. While welfare programmes do help the poor and are needed for interim relief, over indulgence in such schemes can make the citizens over-dependent on the government and the people may resist any attempt to stop such programmes. The government should give more emphasis on areas and policies that will permanently lift the people out of the vicious circle of poverty and ensure sustainable income. In the long run, education, healthcare, sustainable livelihood and public infrastructure matter more than schemes that guarantee income. If the state is serious about eradicating poverty, it should work on providing quality education to all the citizens so that they acquire the skills needed to live a dignified life; quality healthcare to ensure the poor do not run into debt because of bad health; sustainable livelihood to ensure self reliance; and good public infrastructure, which is pivotal for economic growth. The lawmakers of the country can learn from the adage: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”