While the Indian judiciary often toes a socialist line, the Supreme Court today issued a notice to the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the union government on the issue of political parties trying to attract voters with the promise of freebies ahead of the upcoming assembly elections in five states this year. Responding to a PIL by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, the highest court of the country said the promise of freebies was a “serious issue”.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said, “I want to know how to control this legally. Can this be done during these elections? It has to be for the next election. It’s a serious issue. The freebies budget goes beyond the regular budget.”
The apex court said it had earlier asked the ECI to frame guidelines to prevent the same, but the poll body had just held one meeting with political parties asking them for their views.
The Supreme Court was hearing the PIL that sought direction to the ECI to seize the election symbol or de-register a political party that promises or distributes “irrational freebies” from public funds before elections.
The court said the matter will be heard again after four weeks.
The petition said there should be a total ban on such populist measures to gain undue political favours from the voters as they violate the Constitution and the ECI should take suitable deterrent measures.
“Petitioner submits that recent trend of political parties to influence voters by offering freebies with an eye on elections is not only the greatest threat to the survival of democratic values but also injures the spirit of the Constitution,” the plea, filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey, read.
“This unethical practice is just like giving bribes to the electorate at the cost of the exchequer to stay in power and must be avoided to preserve democratic principles and practices,” the petition said.
The petition also sought a direction to the ECI to insert an additional condition in the relevant paragraphs of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, dealing with conditions for recognition as a state party, that a “political party shall not promise/distribute irrational freebies from the public fund before the election”.
The petitioner urged the Supreme Court to declare that the promise of distribution of private goods or services, which are not for public purposes, from public funds before the election violates several articles of the Constitution of India, including Article 14 (equality before law).
The PIL referred to the promises being made by certain political parties in the ongoing assembly poll process in some states.
It may be noted that the debts of several states are now back-breaking, thanks to the rat race of announcing freebies. Eventually, each of these governments will tax the people more to recover this money and yet keep telling the people how magnanimously generous the political parties are that they can offer things for free out of thin air!