SC recommends formation of apex body to control freebies by political parties during election campaign

3 August, 2022 | Vaishali Sharma

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that political parties promising to distribute freebies during election campaigns is a “serious economic issue” and said there is a need for a bo...

The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that political parties promising to distribute freebies during election campaigns is a “serious economic issue” and said there is a need for a body to examine the issue.

A bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli said there is a need for an apex body, consisting of NITI Aayog, Finance Commission, ruling and opposition parties, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), and other stakeholders to make suggestions on how to control freebies by political parties.

“All stakeholders who want the freebies and who are opposing it, including RBI, NITI Aayog, opposition parties have to be involved in this process of making some constructive suggestion,” the bench said.

It asked the Centre, Election Commission, senior advocate and Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal, and petitioners to submit their suggestions within seven days on the composition of an expert body that will examine how to regulate freebies and give a report to it.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Central government supported the petition against promises of freebies by political parties and said this way we are heading towards economic disaster.

“These populist promises have an adverse effect on voters. This is how we head towards economic disasters,” Mehta said.

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said that every political party benefits from the freebies and he did not want one.

“Everybody feels the money paid as taxes is not paid for the purposes of developments etc. and thus everyone should use an independent forum and court should not be that forum. Every political party benefits from the freebies I don’t want to name one,” CJI Ramana said.

The Supreme Court was considering a petition asking the court to order the seizure of electoral emblems and the deregistration of political parties that pledged to distribute nonsensical gifts from public cash.

It requested the Central Government last week to take a statement on the problem of political parties giving nonsensical giveaways from public cash during election campaigns.

It had requested the Centre to investigate if the Finance Commission’s recommendations might be used to find a solution.

The CJI also sought the advice of prominent counsel Kapil Sibal, who was in court on another issue, on political party freebies.

“It’s a serious issue but difficult to control politically. The Finance Commission when it does allocation to various states, they can take into account the debt of the state and the quantum of freebies.

The finance commission is the appropriate authority to deal with it.

Maybe we can invite the Commission to look into this aspect. Centre cannot be expected to issue directions,” Sibal had said.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) informed the Supreme Court that prior rulings had concluded that a manifesto constituted part of a political party’s promises, and that the Central government might enact legislation to address the matter.

The Supreme Court remarked that providing freebies is a major concern that may influence voters and damage the fairness of elections.

While filing the petition, advocate Ashwini Upadhyay said that political parties’ arbitrary pledges or nonsensical giveaways for unjust benefit and to sway voters in their favour are comparable to bribery and undue influences.

It stated that promising or distributing illogical freebies from public monies before to elections might unfairly influence voters, upset the foundations of a free and fair election, and disrupt the level playing field, in addition to tainting the electoral process’s purity.

“Direct and declare that promise/distribution of irrational freebies from the public fund before election to lure voters is analogous to the Bribery and Undue Influence under Section 171B and Section 171C of the IPC,” the plea stated.

According to the petition, freebies are not associated with job growth, development, or agriculture, and people are enticed to vote in their favour by magical promises.

The petition added that it has become fashionable for political parties to announce free electricity in their election manifestos, despite the fact that the state has not been able to provide electricity for more than 16 hours and a large population does not even have access to electricity, which has been recognised as a fundamental right.

“Political parties announce unemployment allowance in manifesto which makes youth lazy and dampen the working culture of the people. Rather than giving unemployment allowance, executive should provide quality education so that youth can create job opportunities on their own. In this process, honest taxpayers have been made a mute spectator. Petitioner submits that healthcare infrastructure is not good as it was seen during the Covid times but political parties are ignorant of it,” the plea further submitted.