Madras Musings rarely comments on political issues, as it abstains from such subjects as a matter of policy. But the ongoing electoral campaign with the plethora of freebies ranging from laptops to cows has caused considerable concern – to all except those who are making the offer and some of those who will receive the promised goods in the event of an electoral win.

This publication is also not against freebies per se. These are manifestations of a welfare state and in a country like ours a certain amount of Government bounty is definitely required, especially for the uplift of the economically depressed sections. The noon-meal scheme was one such. In its time it was received with widespread criticism and today it is upheld as one of the important factors that contributed to the growth of literacy in Tamil Nadu. But the fundamental difference between freebies that were doled out 30 years ago and now is that then what was given went towards the uplift of basic hygiene factors. Today’s freebies are unwarranted luxuries. What is relevant to point out is that the hygiene factors that required to be improved years back still exist only now, under the façade of overall prosperity, they are no longer being addressed.

Leaving that aside for a moment, what is interesting to note is that not one of the political parties has addressed in its manifesto any issue concerning life in the various cities and towns of the state. Basic factors such civic discipline, law and order, environmental issues, housing, the right to clean air and water and urban housing are completely forgotten and where present, they are mentioned only by way of obligatory lip-service. So does this mean we are being taken for granted as those who can be seduced by freebies?

Taking Chennai as the largest urban conglomeration in the state, we are listing out a few issues that parties could have addressed but chosen not to. These may appear peripheral issues but in the long run, it is these slowly aggregating problems that can make or break a city.

Chennai still does not have an effective means of segregating and disposing its wastes. Organic and toxic wastes are freely mixed together and sent off to landfills where they lie, polluting the soil and the ground water in a manner that we are unable to assess. The issue is presently affecting only those who are living in the immediate vicinity of the landfills and so the matter is being silently given the go by. Our waterways are terribly polluted and much money has been spent in trying to get them cleaned. Do any of the parties have a policy or view on the subject, beyond instituting judicial enquiries on the manner in which the money was spent thus far? Our city is bursting at the seams by way of population. Is there any plan for developing satellite cities in places such Kanchipuram or Chingleput to relieve this urban congestion? Or are we to continue believing that flyovers are the only cure? Our public transport systems of various kinds are inward looking islands with no means of seamlessly integrating into each other. Is there any master plan for improving on this? Pedestrians in the city have no place for themselves. Is this to be solved by converting everybody into a vehicle-user or are we going to have places were people can walk freely?

These are just some of the issues and the list is practically endless. And yet, none of these have been considered a matter of priority!

Those who give freebies ought to also consider the impact such gifts have on the public morale. There was a time when Tamil Nadu was known for its work ethic. People believed in putting in their best to receive a justified return by means of which they could improve their standard of living. Now with just about anything and everything coming their way free of cost and effort, where is the incentive to work? Will this also not have an impact on our state in the long run? But with most parties being concerned with the immediate short-term poll gain, it is unlikely that such feelings will prevail.