The welfare state is a convenient and elastic phrase with varying definitions. It is a concept of government in which the state plays the key role in the protection and promotion of economic and social well-being of its citizens. A welfare state is based on the principles of equality of opportunity and equitable distribution of wealth. It also focuses on the governmental responsibility for those who are unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions of a good life. Under this system, the welfare of its citizens is the responsibility of the state. A Welfare State regards itself as an agency of social service rather than an instrument of power.
The following are regarded as among the responsibilities of a country that claims to be a welfare state:
To provide individual liberty and social security.
To balance between individual freedom and social control.
To ensure the basic amenities of life to all people: Food, Cloth and Shelter.
To give employment, education and medical aid for all its citizens.
India – A Welfare State
As originally enacted, the preamble of Indian Constitution described the state as a “Sovereign Democratic Republic”. In 1976 the Forty-second Amendment changed this to read as “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic”. The words “Socialist” and “Secular” were added to the preamble by this amendment.
Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are the guiding principles of Indian constitution. Social equality in this context means the absence of discrimination on the grounds only of caste, color, creed, sex, religion, or language. Under social equality, everyone has equal status and opportunities. Economic equality means that the government will endeavor to make the distribution of wealth more equal and provide a decent standard of living for all. This has in effect emphasized a commitment towards the formation of a welfare state.
Along with the principles outlined in the Preamble, Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles lay the foundations of India as a Welfare State.
Also Article 38 of the Constitution reads: “The state shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may, a social order in which justice – social economic and political – shall pervade all institutions of national life.” This provision provides a broad framework for the establishment of the welfare state.
Constitution of India (Part III) has enshrined certain basic human and civil rights to all citizens. These fundamental rights are, on the other hand, fundamental duties bestowed upon the state. These are rights which no government can deny them any citizen or class of citizens. The following constitutional provisions under Fundamental Rights lay the foundations of India as a Secular, Socialist, and Democratic Welfare State.
Right to Equality (Art. 14 to 18)
Right to Freedom (Art. 19 to 22)
Right Against Exploitation (Art. 23 & 24);
Right to Freedom of Religion (Art. 25 to 28)
Right to Culture and Education (Art. 29 & 30)
The Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Indian constitution (Part IV) aim to create social and economic conditions under which the citizens can lead a good life. They aim to establish “social and economic democracy through a welfare state”. It shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws. Besides, all executive agencies and judiciary should also be guided by these principles. Every citizen enjoys these rights without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, color, sex, religion or education.
The directive principles ensure, among others, the following to all citizens and classes of citizens:
The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by promoting a social order in which social, economic and political justice prevails.
The State shall work towards reducing economic inequality as well as inequalities in status and opportunities, not only among individuals, but also among groups of people.
The State shall aim for securing right to an adequate means of livelihood for all citizens; men and women as well as equal pay for equal work for both men and women.
The State shall provide free legal aid to ensure equal opportunities for securing justice to all.
The State shall endeavor to provide the right to work and to education.
The State should also ensure living wage and proper working conditions for workers.
The State shall separate judiciary from executive in public services.
The State shall strive for the promotion and maintenance of international peace and security and just and honorable relations between nations.
Welfare Sate: Western versus Indian
Most of the Western countries have adopted capitalism as the state policy. Still they claim to be Welfare State. These western countries founded on the capitalist exploitation earmarks a portion of state funds to service sectors like health care and education and also directly to individuals in the form of subsidies, pensions and other benefits.
Incidentally, Karl Marx warned against the welfare measures advanced by liberal democrats arguing that measures designed to increase wages, improve working conditions, and provide welfare payments would dissuade the working class away from the revolutionary path which was necessary to achieve a socialist economy.
By definition, India is a Socialist State. But unlike the communist regimes that claims to represent Scientific Socialism, our country since its very inception as a democratic nation has discarded the concept of full state ownership and adopted a mixed economy of public and private sectors. It is also to be noted that neither our constitution nor its judicial interpretations elaborates on the ideological repercussions of the term socialism. Rather its emphasis is on the exercise of various ways and means of social justice and social security.
Indian Attempts towards Welfare State
India being a democratic country with socialist vision, it has adopted a federal system having division of authority between union and state governments and a mixed economy which allows private finance along with governmental endeavors. During the past six decades the Indian parliament and state assemblies have passed several laws with the declared objective of people’s welfare. The Five Year Plans also contained many schemes to meet this objective.
The following are some examples of welfare measures launched by successive governments.
Laws to protect children from exploitation.
Laws and welfare schemes to protect women from exploitation.
Programmes for the welfare of physically challenged.
Reservation for SC, ST and OBC in legislature, employment and education.
Schemes for the development of religious and linguistic minorities.
Welfare schemes for the poor, backward classes and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Acts for Minimum wages and equal wages for equal work for both men and women.
Schemes to boost rural employment like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and Swaran Jayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojna.
Right To Education Act 2009 and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan to universalize education.
Food Security Ordinance 2013.
A performance audit of the welfare schemes takes us to the conclusion that they could exert only marginal effect and the benefit could not reach the target groups due lack of various reasons such as insincerity of governments, apathy of the administration and corruption and communalism rampant over our political system.