The Delhi High Court today issued notice to the Election Commission of India on a PIL challenging the alleged practice of political parties offering cash benefits in lieu of votes during elections.
A Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh sought to know from the Commission the steps taken by it to curtail such activities, that have already been prohibited by the Supreme Court in the case of S. Subramaniam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu.
"Powers are not ornaments. You use your powers for welfare of public at large," the Bench told the Commission at the outset.
"If some party is making false promises against law, what action have you taken? Despite knowing that there are categorical directions by Supreme Court, you people are sitting tight."
Senior Advocate Soumya Chakraborty, appearing for the petitioner Parashar Narayan Sharma, argued that election manifestos promising transfer of cash to be distributed without exchange of any labour/ work is illegal.
In this regard, he referred to the 'Nyuntam Ayay Yojana' (Minimum Income Support Scheme) of Indian National Congress which allegedly offered up to Rs. 72,000 yearly cash benefits irrespective of any efforts. He also cited certain promises made by the Telugu Desam Party in its 2019 election manifesto.
He stated such practice is against the spirit of Section 123 (Corrupt practices) of the Representation of People's Act, 1951, opposed to the ECI's Model Code of Conduct and is violative of the Supreme Court judgment.
He therefore sought a declaration that offer of cash transfer/ freebies by political parties in election manifestos is a corrupt electoral practice, and ultra vires the Constitution of India.
"Unless the growing tend of announcement of transfer of cash under the garb of doing out of freebie is declared unconstitutional and illegal, the same would in future be replicated wantonly by all political parties which would not only bring the largest democratic practice in the world to a mockery but would also ruin the economy, industry and agriculture of the nation beyond redemption," stated the plea.
The Election Commission of India, represented by Advocate Anjana Gosain, informed the Bench that the ECI as framed appropriate guidelines against offering of freebies during electoral process, and it is in compliance with the Subramaniam Balaji case (supra).
However, the Bench expressed that it is not sufficient for the authority to merely issue notices and guidelines, and it ought to take action against the errant.
The matter is now fixed for hearing on September 24. The ECI has been directed to file an affidavit indicating the steps it has taken in this direction and the proposed action, if any.
Case Title: Parashar Narayan Sharma v. Union of India