by Saloni Bisht
“Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.”
― Albert Einstein
Falling for free stuff is human nature; it is also said that freebies taste better than the things we pay for. But the problem arises when these freebies are coming from the government, that too for a particular section of the society. It is only fair for the taxpayers to raise questions against it. Something similar happened when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made an announcement last month. He declared an unprecedented proposal to offer women free rides on Delhi Metro, DTC and cluster buses in the national capital in the name of women safety.
While justifying the scheme, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal said that the subsidy is optional, in case a woman wishes to pay for her ticket can pay and help others to benefit from the subsidy.
However, this seemed like a desperate move by the Delhi Chief Minister to lure the Delhiites after failing to sack even a single Lok Sabha seat in the recently concluded elections.
Reaction of Delhiites
This announcement saw a great bashing from the Twitterati, who are mainly the male taxpayers, as expected. A lot of females, especially the working class, also came out and spoke against this scheme. On the other hand, many people supported the plan as it will encourage women to travel in the metro, especially those women who cannot afford it and rather choose a cheaper and unsafe mode of transport. The news came as a relief to many women who could not take the metro as the fare was really high. So in a nutshell, free rides for women in Delhi scheme has received mixed reaction from the people of Delhi.
How difficult is it to understand: Women feel safer & are safer when 33 women & 66 men are there in a closed space, in comparison to when there are 3 women & 97 men.@ArvindKejriwal @msisodia#FreeMetroForWomen
— Bhaskar Sharma (@FromBhaskar) June 5, 2019
Privileged commuters cribbing against #FreeMetroForWomen are forgetting the lakhs of women from lower income households and daily wage labourers. Rs 50 from Seelampur to Dwarka is not affordable for someone who earns 100 a day. Reported for @news18dotcom https://t.co/I1nje0AXA2
— Rakhi Bose (@theotherbose) June 4, 2019
Should the Government offer freebies or create more opportunities for everyone?
We should ask ourselves about what do we really want? Endless freebies or endless opportunities?
— Pranjal Kamra (@myfinology) June 5, 2019
The more i think about #FreeMetroForWomen, the more it makes sense to me. The opposition to the scheme is natural, since normal public are usually averse to the “out of the box” ideas. If implementation goes well, it will be a pathbreaker for the world to replicate!
— Archie (@ArchieSriva) June 4, 2019
This gender-based public transport fare subsidy program, like any other program, has its own pros and cons. let’s discuss them in detail:
Why it is a good idea
In India, women travel to the far destinations less as compared to men, which has significant impacts on their education and employment decisions. According to the stats, only 33% of Metro commuters are women. Also, according to the 2011 Census, an estimated 60% of working women in India choose to work from home or at a place that is closer to their abode. The fare hike last year affected women the worst and eventually, this situation forced them to switch to more risky modes of transport like private buses, ride-sharing, or even walking as mentioned above. All these hindrances demands compromise both in pursuing education and searching for a job. This step is most likely to help them return to the Metro’s safety and might also encourage those who wish to work at a place far from home. As it is seen that the safety of women gets stronger where there are more women in any public place, therefore, more women in Metros and buses will lead to safer commuting.
Why the Government should drop this idea
The questions that arise are: Should affordability and security be measured under the same parameter? How will free rides make travelling safe for women? On top of all, will the system proposed by the Delhi Government have adverse economic effects? Even if the Delhi government will subsidize DMRC, which is not going to be a small amount, from where will it generate the additional amount? One thing is for sure that the deficit will end up going out of the taxpayers’ pockets which is highly unfair.
In a survey, all most all the women highlighted that they completely avoid taking DTC buses as they feel unsafe, due to the countless cases of harassment that take place in the buses on a daily basis. DTC buses are heavily crowded and hence the chances of robbery are also high. Now making the ride free will in no case make the DTC bus safe.
Secondly, this scheme directly contradicts the fight for equality that the women of our country are fighting for many years now, which is why the major criticism is coming from the women itself. And if the idea is to benefit the lower-income group women then making metro/bus rides free for the entire gender sound just nonsensical.
What will actually serve the purpose
To actually work on women safety, instead of distributing freebies, the Delhi Government can introduce a ladies special bus with slightly lower fares (keeping the disadvantaged group of females in mind). This would have been truly helpful in making travel safer. Also, there are other better alternatives like to have a BPL (below poverty line) metro cards issued to women that charge substantially lower metro fares. This will ensure that the benefits reach the right people.