Political Parties Promising ‘Freebies’ Before Elections A ‘Serious Issue’: Supreme Court Issues Notice to Center, ECI

Team SoOLEGAL 25 Jan 2022 4:27pm

Political Parties Promising ‘Freebies’ Before Elections A ‘Serious Issue’: Supreme Court Issues Notice to Center, ECI

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court of India issued notice to the Union of India and the Election Commission of India on Tuesday in response to a petition filed by a political party seeking directions to the ECI not to allow political parties to promise or distribute irrational freebies from public funds before elections, and to de-register political parties or seize election symbols that do so.

A Bench consisting of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice AS Bopanna, and Justice Hima Kohli noted that there is certainly a series issue, but pondered what the Court might do to resolve the situation.

"We want to know how to control this. It's a serious issue no doubt. The Freebie budget is going beyond the regular budget, and sometimes as observed by SC it's not a level playing field for some parties etc. In a limited scope, what we can do is, we had directed ECI to form guidelines", CJI Ramana said.

The Bench also referred to the Supreme Court's earlier decision in the case of Subramaniam Balaji vs State of Tamil Nadu, in which the Court, while stating that promises made in an election manifesto cannot be construed as a "corrupt practice" under section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines on election manifesto contents with the consultation of political parties and include it in the Model Code of Conduct.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, who represented the petitioners, suggested that the Central Government file an affidavit in the case and that, in addition to the guidelines, some sanction to be provided.

"Please see ultimately whose money is promised to be given? It's the people's money. Some states have burden of more than 3 lakh per person, and still freebies are being offered. The Court had asked them to frame guidelines, they framed guidelines with no teeth. Every party is doing the same thing", Singh said.

"If every party is doing the same thing, why have you only mentioned two in your affidavit?" CJI asked. "I didn't want to name any party", Mr. Singh said "You may not be naming it, but You're very clear in your averments", Justice Hima Kohli said the Bench further said, "We must also know, how are we going to control?"

"There can be something in symbol order itself and not give recognition to a particular party who engages in this kind of activity", Mr. Singh suggested.

The Bench was particularly concerned that the political parties who may be affected by the ruling had not been named as defendants in the lawsuit. However, the court decided to send a notice to the Centre and the Election Commission at this point and await their answer.

As an alternative redress, the current writ case, filed by Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, seeks directives to the Centre to draught legislation to regulate political parties.

The petition asks the Court to rule that:

·       The promise of illogical freebies from public funds before an election has an undue impact on voters, disrupts the level playing field, undermines the foundations of a free and fair election, and taints the purity of the electoral process.

·       The promise/distribution of private goods/services from public monies prior to an election violates Articles 14, 162, 266(3), and 282 of the Constitution.

·       Bribery and Undue Influence under Sections 171B and 171C of the IPC are equivalent to the promise/distribution of illogical goodies from the public purse before an election to entice voters.

The following are some of the examples mentioned by the petitioner that, in his opinion, establish the basis for his petition's cause of action:

·       To entice them, the Aam Aadmi Party pledged Rs. 1000 per month to every woman aged 18 and above, while the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) promised Rs. 2000 per woman.

·       Congress promised not just Rs. 2000 per month and 8 gas cylinders per year to every family, but also a Scooty to every collage attending lady, Rs. 20,000 after completing 12th, Rs. 15,000 after passing 10th, Rs. 10,000 after passing 8th, and Rs. 5000 after passing 5th.

·       In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress Party pledged a smartphone to every female in Class 12, a Scooty to every girl earning a degree, free public transportation for women, eight free gas cylinders per year to every housewife, and free medical treatment up to Rs 10 lakh per household.

·       The Samajwadi Party pledged 300 units of free electricity for every household, a monthly pension of Rs. 1500 for every woman, and a financial help of Rs 5 lakh for persons who died in a cycling accident.

The Petitioner claims that arbitrary promises of nonsensical freebies undermine the ECI's responsibility for free and fair elections, and that providing private goods and services from public monies manifestly violates Articles 162, 266(3), and 282 of the Constitution.

The Petitioner further claims that, in addition to undermining free and fair elections, arbitrary and unreasonable freebie distribution flagrantly violates Article 14 of the Constitution because there is no acceptable classification of the population. According to the petitioner, the right to equality requires the State must make a reasonable classification and must have a nexus with the object but political parties are not adhering this basic tenant of the Constitution.

"The Injury to the Citizens is Extremely Large because 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 in power, thoughGST collection is 1400 Cr only. In fact, after debt repayment, Punjab Government is not able pay even salaries-pensions, then how will it provide freebies?" the plea states.

Tagged: Supreme Court   Chief Justice of India   NV Ramana   Justice AS Bopanna   Justice Hima Kohli   People Act   Senior Advocate Vikas Singh   Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay  
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