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'Serious issue': SC Seeks Centre, EC Response on PIL Against Freebies Before Polls

The top court pointed at its earlier judgment, where it was held that freebies offered by political parties in their manifestos would not come under 'corrupt practices'. (Image: PTI/File)

The top court pointed at its earlier judgment, where it was held that freebies offered by political parties in their manifestos would not come under 'corrupt practices'. (Image: PTI/File)

The bench further noted that the freebie budget is going beyond the regular budget and sometimes, as observed by this court, freebies ensure, it is not a level playing field.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notice to Centre and the Election Commission (EC) on a PIL against the promise or distribution of irrational freebies from public funds before polls as it shakes the roots of a free and fair election, and vitiates the purity of the election process.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Raman and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli asked senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing the petitioner advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, how could this be controlled? The bench said, “We can’t legislate. Yes, it is a serious issue…”

The bench further noted that the freebie budget is going beyond the regular budget and sometimes, as observed by this court, freebies ensure, it is not a level playing field. “Within the limited scope, what we have done is directed EC to frame guidelines. Subsequently, I think all they did is they called one meeting of the political parties, don’t know what happened in that”, said the Chief Justice.

The top court also pointed at its earlier judgment, where it was held that freebies offered by political parties in their manifestos would not come under “corrupt practices” and “electoral offences” under Representation of the People Act. However, the top court had directed the EC to frame guidelines on the contents of the election manifesto in consultation with political parties.

Insisting on Centre’s response in the matter, Singh said: “Please see ultimately whose money is promised to be given? It’s people’s money…” He added that every party is doing the same thing. The bench queried, why the petitioner has named two political parties in the petition?

The bench observed that it is keen to know how it can be controlled. Singh suggested political parties indulging such activities should not be recognized. After hearing arguments, the bench issued notice to Centre and the EC and asked them to file their replies within four weeks.

The plea sought a direction from the top court to declare that the promise of irrational freebies, which are not for public purposes, from public funds before election, violates Articles 14, 162, 266(3), and 282 of the Constitution.

The plea contended that political parties’ promises to lure voters in their favour is analogous to bribery and undue influences. The plea cited Aam Aadmi Party promised Rs 1,000 per month to every woman aged 18 and above, and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) promised Rs 2,000 to each woman to lure them, and the Congress also promised Rs 2,000 per month and 8 gas cylinders per year to every housewife.

The plea pointed out that Punjab needs Rs 12,000 crore per month to fulfil the political promises if AAP comes in power, Rs 25,000 crore per month if SAD comes in power, and Rs 30,000 crore if Congress comes to power. The petitioner added that the GST collection of the state is only Rs 1,400 crore.

The plea claimed, “In fact, after debt repayment, the Punjab government is not able to pay even salaries-pensions, then how will it provide freebies? The bitter truth is that Punjab’s debt is increasing every subsequent year. State’s outstanding debt has increased to Rs 77,000 crore, with Rs 30,000 crore accumulating in the present financial year itself.”

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first published:January 25, 2022, 14:46 IST