The revenue deficit for Tamil Nadu, presented as part of the interim budget early in February, is alarming to say the least. The Government has revealed that its expenditure exceeds its income by over Rs. 9,000 crore. While this as a figure is bad enough, what makes it worse are two attitudinal issues – the first is that welfare measures cannot be reined in and second that other States in the country fare far worse than us in revenue management. These are not indicators of a bright future for our State – often touted as a model in administration.
This is the third consecutive year that Tamil Nadu has not been able to adhere to the fiscal responsibility norm of zero revenue deficit. Any small business will tell you the elementary rules of financial discipline – you cannot be making cash losses. But that is what we are doing right now and with no tiny or manageable figures. The deficit has been attributed to two factors – fall in revenue, owing to decreased petroleum prices, and a sharp increase in ‘welfare measures’. The latter is nothing but a euphemism for freebies. These have, sadly, become integral features of governance, no matter which Party is in power in our State.
This was not the case till a couple of decades ago.
Tamil Nadu is no stranger to welfare schemes and many of these were much needed. The State has been the pioneer in several measures that have gone a long way in improving the standard of living. These include steps taken in the fields of education, healthcare, housing and women’s welfare. In many of these, we were far ahead of other States of India and when it came to the noon meal scheme, we were ahead of many countries in the world. None can therefore deny the merits in these. It must also be pointed out that all of these helped in transforming lives at a fundamental level – they were truly agents of social uplift.
What has since happened reeks of populism. We do not wish to comment on free goats and cows, as there are sections of society where these would qualify as valued capital. The same goes for financial assistance for weddings, pernicious though the practice is of even the weakest sections of society wanting to spend hard earned money on lavish ceremonies.
But does everyone really need a television set, a mixer, a grinder and a laptop? These are all items that people ought to aspire to buy. Does it become the State Government’s responsibility to ensure that every household has all of these? What motivation then exists for people to work hard, earn a living and then strive to improve their living conditions? And, if these are to be given free, will the recipients cherish and value these gifts? It is common sense that what is received gratis rarely has any importance attached to it.
There is also the issue of chronic misuse of such privileges. Yes, there are people who benefit from subsidised food, water and medicines. But there is no mechanism today to ensure that those who are earning well also do not avail of these facilities. The net result is that many people eat at these canteens and what is saved is spent on alcohol, which is also vended by the State.
Freebies have come to stay and are, unfortunately, going to get bigger. Once the belief has set in that the only way to win votes is by giving such gifts, there is no end to it. And it will create a culture of lotus-eaters, people who do not wish to work. Is this the Tamil Nadu we wish to bring about?