June 26, 2022

Can promises of freebies on poll eve be curbed, asks Supreme Court | India News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said political parties competing with each other to announce freebies and doles during electioneering has the potential to upset states’ finances and vitiate free and fair polls and asked the Centre and the Election Commission to respond to a PIL seeking measures to curb this infectious poll-eve tendency.
Agreeing for detailed examination of a PIL filed by advocate-petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay on the issue of freebies and their deleterious impact on state exchequers as well as fairness of elections, a bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli termed the issue serious and asked the Centre and the EC to file their response affidavits within four weeks.
The CJI asked, “How to control this (alleged irrational announcement of freebies and doles)? It is a serious issue, there is no doubt about it. Freebies are going beyond the budgets. And as the SC had pointed out in its 2013 judgment, it disturbs the level playing field. The court had acknowledged that a candidate of a political party, which announces a large number of freebies and doles, gets a winning edge in the elections, even though it is not a corrupt practice under the Representation of People Act.”
“Within the limited scope, it appears that the court had directed the EC to frame guidelines. The EC had met political parties for this purpose. But we do not know what is the status of the exercise undertaken by the EC on this issue,” the bench said. Though it felt that before passing any orders it would have to hear all political parties, the bench said, “for the time being we will issue notice and let the Centre and the EC come back with responses within four weeks”.
Appearing for Upadhyay, senior advocate Vikas Singh said most of the states are neck-deep in debt and political parties competing with each other in promising freebies and doles would completely destroy the finances of the next government, whichever party forms it after the elections.
He gave a tabular chart of the debt burden on the five states — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur — which are going to the polls in February and March. Citing newspaper reports, he said UP has a public debt of Rs 6.1 lakh crore, Punjab 2.8 lakh crore, Uttarakhand Rs 68,000 crore and Goa Rs 18,844 crore. The petitioner did not give the data about Manipur.
Singh said there has to be some repercussion provided in the Symbols Order or registration of political parties for announcing freebies irresponsibly. But the SC said that it would be only after the elections are over. Singh said even if such punitive action is taken by EC after the elections, it would have a salutary effect on political parties for the next election.
The SC in its judgment in the case ‘S Subramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu’ on July 5, 2013 had said, “We arrived at a conclusion that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be read into Section 123 (of RP Act) for declaring it to be a corrupt practice. Thus, promises in the election manifesto do not constitute a corrupt practice under the prevailing law.”

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