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Supreme Court Suggests Forming Expert Body To Regulate Freebies In Polls

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that political parties promising to distribute freebies during election campaigns is a “serious economic issue” and said there is a need for a body to examine the issue.
A bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli said there is a need for an apex body, consisting of NITI Aayog, Finance Commission, ruling and opposition parties, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), and other stakeholders to make suggestions on how to control freebies by political parties.

“All stakeholders who want the freebies and who are opposing it, including RBI, NITI Aayog, opposition parties have to be involved in this process of making some constructive suggestion,” the bench said.

It asked the Centre, Election Commission, senior advocate and Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal, and the petitioners to submit their suggestions within seven days on the composition of an expert body that will examine how to regulate freebies and give a report to it.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Central government. supported the petition against promises of freebies by political parties and said this way we are heading towards economic disaster.

“These populist promises have an adverse effect on voters. This is how we head towards economic disasters,” Mr Mehta said.

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said that every political party benefits from the freebies and he did not want to name one.

“Everybody feels the money paid as taxes is not paid for the purposes of developments etc. and thus everyone should use an independent forum and court should not be that forum. Every political party benefits from the freebies. I don’t want to name one,” CJI Ramana said.

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The Supreme Court was hearing a plea seeking direction to seize election symbols and deregister political parties that promised to distribute irrational freebies from public funds.

Last week it asked the central government to take a stand on the need to control the issue of political parties promising to distribute irrational freebies from public funds during elections campaigns.

It had asked the Centre to consider whether the suggestions of the Finance Commission can be sought for a solution.

The CJI had also sought the opinion of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was present in court for some other matter, on freebies by political parties.

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“It’s a serious issue but difficult to control politically. The Finance Commission when it does allocation to various states, they can take into account the debt of the state and the quantum of freebies. The finance commission is the appropriate authority to deal with it. Maybe we can invite the Commission to look into this aspect. Centre cannot be expected to issue directions,” Mr Sibal had said.

The Election Commission had told the Supreme Court that it was held in previous judgments that a manifesto was part of the promises of a political party and suggested that the central government could bring in a law to deal with the issue.

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The top court had observed that promising freebies is a serious issue which may influence the electorate and affect the fairness of polls.

Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, while filing the plea, had claimed that the political parties’ arbitrarily promises or irrational freebies for wrongful gain and to lure voters in their favour are analogous to bribery and undue influences.

It claimed that promise or distribution of irrational freebies from public funds before elections could unduly influence the voters, shake the roots of a free and fair election, and disturb the level playing field, besides vitiating the purity of the election process.

“Direct and declare that promise/distribution of irrational freebies from the public fund before election to lure voters is analogous to the Bribery and Undue Influence under Section 171B and Section 171C of the IPC,” the plea stated.

The petition stated that unfortunately, freebies are not connected with job creation, development, or agriculture and voters are lured to cast votes in their favour by magical promises.

It has become fashion for the political parties to announce free electricity in their election manifesto though state has not been able to provide electricity for more than 16 hours and a large population doesn’t even have access to electricity which has been recognised as a fundamental right, the petition added.

“Political parties announce unemployment allowance in manifesto which makes youth lazy and dampen the working culture of the people. Rather than giving unemployment allowance, executive should provide quality education so that youth can create job opportunities on their own. In this process, honest taxpayers have been made a mute spectator. Petitioner submits that healthcare infrastructure is not good as it was seen during the Covid times but political parties are ignorant of it,” the plea further submitted.

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