The announced proposal of free rides in DTC buses and Delhi Metro for women by the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has sparked a debate. What is noteworthy that the ensuing debate is not one of clarity on merits or demerits of the proposed scheme, but the reaction is either total rejection or total endorsement of the same, highlighting that the response is essentially political.
There are several criticisms, namely, loss to public exchequer (commonly as wastage of taxpayer’s money), populism in the wake of coming assembly elections, voter freebies, gender equality, etc. All these criticisms are misplaced. The argument of wastage of public money is flawed because we are a country where thousands of crores are spent on other things that do not benefit the general public at all. Think of the enormous amount spent on Parliament sessions which often end in indefinite postponements and end without any productive work.
Yes, it is a populist move in the wake of elections due within a few months, but every government does so. Think of the central government’s announcement of 10% quota for economically weaker sections of non-SC/ST population or the Odisha government’s Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) which was also announced when the elections were due in the state.
The response of women, the chief beneficiary of the proposed scheme, has come mainly through social media (Facebook and Twitter) which is divided, with many of them expressing that they can pay for themselves. But, here lies the irony. Those who do need such a measure also lack platforms to express their wishes. Therefore, it is important to gather a thorough opinion before deciding the fate of proposal.
Whenever there are differences, there is scope for improvement.
1) First, there should be an open debate in which relevant questions are posed to the government, most fundamentally about where the provision of funds for reimbursement of expenses will be sourced from?
2) Second, is this to be extended to all women or can it be implemented as per need?
3) Third, is it safe for women to travel in public buses and do we have enough buses during the peak hours of the day?
It may also be suggested that this be made optional for those who want to pay for their ride. It is true that not every woman needs a free ride. But, it is equally true that there are ones who do need it. It can help many school-going and college-going students. Also, the same services can be provided at cheaper rates instead of free, thereby reducing the scope for it’s unfair use.