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Political Parties Promising 'Freebies' Before Elections A 'Serious Issue': Supreme Court Issues Notice To Centre, ECI

Srishti Ojha
25 Jan 2022 6:48 AM GMT
Political Parties Promising Freebies Before Elections A Serious Issue: Supreme Court Issues Notice To Centre, ECI
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The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday issued notice to the Union of India and Election Commission of India in a plea filed seeking directions to the ECI to not permit political parties to promise or distribute irrational freebies from the public fund before elections and de-register political parties or seize election symbol of the parties which do so.A Bench comprising the Chief Justice of...

The Supreme Court of India on Tuesday issued notice to the Union of India and Election Commission of India in a plea filed seeking directions to the ECI to not permit political parties to promise or distribute irrational freebies from the public fund before elections and de-register political parties or seize election symbol of the parties which do so.

A Bench comprising the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli observed that it is undoubtedly a series issue, but wondered what the Court can do to solve the problem. 

"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 Supreme Court's earlier judgement in the case of Subramaniam Balaji vs State of Tamil Nadu where the Court while stating that the promises made in an election manifesto cannot be construed as a 'corrupt practice' under section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, had directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines on contents of election manifesto with the consultation of political parties and including it in the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for the guidance of political parties and candidates.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh appearing for the petitioners submitted that the Central Government should file an affidavit in the matter, and along with the guidelines, some sanction needs to be issued as well. 

"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 also expressed concern that the political parties who may be affected by the order have not been impleaded in the case. However, the court decided to issue notice to the Centre and the Election Commission at this stage and get their response 

The present writ petition filed by Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, has as an alternate relief ,sought directions to the Centre to enact a law to regulate political parties.

The petition has urged the Court to declare that :

  • Promise of irrational freebies from public fund before election unduly influences voters, disturbs level playing field, shakes roots of free-fair election and vitiates purity of election process.
  • Promise/distribution of private goods/services, which are not for public purposes, from public funds before election, violate Articles 14, 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution.
  • Promise/distribution of irrational freebies from the public fund before election to lure voters is analogous to Bribery and Undue Influence under S.171B and S.171C of the IPC.

The following are some of the instances pointed out by the petitioner which according to him constitute the cause of action his petition:

  • Aam Aadmi Party promised Rs. 1000 per month to every woman aged 18 and above and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) promised Rs. 2000 to each woman to lure them.
  • Congress not only promised Rs. 2000 per month and 8 gas cylinders per year to every house and also promised a Scooty to every collage going girl, Rs. 20,000 after passing 12th class, Rs. 15,000 after passing 10th class, Rs. 10,000 after passing 8th class and Rs. 5000 after passing 5th.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, Congress promised a smartphone to every girl studying in Class 12, a Scooty to every girl pursuing graduation, free public transport for women, eight free gas cylinders per year to every housewife, free medical treatment up to Rs 10 lakh per family.
  • Samajwadi Party announced 300-unit free electricity to every family and Rs. 1500 pension per month to every women as well as financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh to the people who lost their lives in accident while riding a cycle.

The Petitioner has argued that arbitrary promises of irrational freebies violate the ECI's mandate for free and fair elections and distributing private goods-services, which are not for public purposes, from public funds, clearly violate Articles 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution.

The Petitioner has also submitted that apart from vitiating free and fair elections, arbitrary and irrational freebie distribution brazenly offends Article 14 of the Constitution as there is no reasonable classification of the people.

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

Case Title: Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay vs Union of India & Ors 

Click Here To Read/Download Order


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