Welfare state is defined as a government that guarantees a proper standard of living and services to its citizens without any discrimination. The government plays a key role in promotion of every section of society and distribution of resources in an equitable manner. It is a novel feature of modern democratic state which evolved with the evolution o constitutional form of government. It means that state exists for securing the inalienable rights of individual. A welfare state, unlike a regulatory/ laissez faire state, performs dual function i.e. apart from regulatory function, development function as well. It seeks to establish an egalitarian society.
The idea of welfare state has long been a matter of debate and discussion. Various scholars based on their academic knowledge, speculative judgment tried to define the concept of welfare state. Rousseau considers a welfare state driven by the principle of general will as ideal. He advocate that when the chasm between the individual will and collective will is mitigated or eliminated, only then a state can guarantee welfare to its people.
Karl Marx, in his study of Communist Manifesto, tells that a welfare state is the product of mass mobilization and revolution of the proletariat class. He advocated for a state in which means of production will be owned by all and everyone has stake in the forces of production. His utopian goal was the establishment of a classless society what he called as communism. According to Marx, only communist rule can provide the welfare and development to every nook and corner of the society.
Durkheim considers a welfare state based on the principle of organic solidarity and rule of law in which the desires of the individual fit into the demands of society. On the other hand, Max Weber considered welfare state based on the legal rational capitalist state, legal rational authority and bureaucracy driven by objectivity and rationality.
In India, there has been considerable debate on state responsibility between various nationalists during the course of nationalist movement. Gandhiji considered welfare state as a government that will promote cottage industries and help in the promotion of grass root Panchayats Raj System as a unit of self government. His idea of a welfare state rested on the premise that state will take the affirmative role to bridge the gap between various sections of society by constructive work in the field of education, dismantling caste consciousness and creation of self employment opportunities for individuals. While Nehru took welfare state as a mixed blend of big industries owned by the government with a conduit for distribution of fruits of growth to different sections of society.
Of late, idea of welfare state is also manifested in the form of Gross National Happiness as propounded by Bhutan King Jigme Thinley Wangchuk. His idea of welfare state rests on four dimensions of promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of natural environment and establishment of good governance.
The advent of globalization and consequent growth of capitalism has given way to disproportionate exploitation of resources and growing inequality both inter nation and intra nation. It has led to growing unrest among the workers and their economic exploitation, increasing crime against women, increased competitiveness and dynamic and exponential growth of market which entered into private life of the individual, growth of leftist extremism or naxalism, cyber crime etc. In this context, welfare state gains important.
India opted for a welfare and socialist pattern of government functioning by enacting Directive Principles of State Policy. It was considered a judicial mix of Gandhian ideology, socialism, western liberalism and freedom struggle of India. Various ideas were propagated through this part that state must endeavor to achieve for the overall social, economic and administrative development of the society. Based on these principles, government has enacted various legislations like, Abolition of Zamindari System for equal distribution of natural resources, Community Development Programs for development for particular communities, Co-operative movement for overall development of a specific sector and increasing the wages of people, priority lending schemes for low interest loans, promotion of self help groups for self employment, Nationalization of banks for saving the individuals from unscrupulous moneylenders and vagaries of market; and ownership in various industrial activities for equitable distribution of resources in the name of public good, equal pay for equal work for decreasing the gender and social divide, various labour legislation laws for better work environment and bargaining power of workers, factories act, Mines act and poverty alleviation programmers’ like MGNREGA.
The ideal of a welfare state must contain various legal provisions in order to protect vulnerable and marginalized poor sections of society to secure and protect a social order which stands for welfare of people. A state must secure to individual various rights both legal and constitutional. For example, a welfare state must provide free and compulsory education to all individuals without any discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, race, ethnicity or sex etc. It must provide accessible and affordable healthcare to underprivileged sections of the society to prevent their out of pocket expanses. It must promote progressive taxation so as to mitigate the growing inequalities between individuals. It must promote gender justice through special intervention for girl and female subjects. It must create just and humane conditions of work and must strive to abolish child labour or bonded labour.
In contemporary times, an ideal welfare state is the one which takes into account, the voices of every section of the society like individuals, pressure groups, non-governmental organization, social activists and intellectuals while formulating policy or enacting any social welfare program.
In conclusion, it can be advocated that though the concept of ideal welfare state has not lost its utility and has evolved over a period of time. It is still the responsibility of the state that globalization should be inclusive and every person has stake in it and he/she can use all his potential to invest in the market. Only then, world will emergence as a single entity driven by the principles of equity, empowerment and inclusion in which every individual will have say in the political, economic or social structure.