Last Updated: August 03, 2022, 21:40 IST
The Center on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that “distribution of freebies inevitably leads to future economic disaster”, supporting a public interest litigation (PIL) against the practice of political parties promising handouts during elections.
The fresh stand of the central government before a bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana assumes significance as earlier it had said the issue of freebies needed to be dealt with by the Election Commission.
The poll panel, however, had put the onus on the government during the July 26 hearing.
The bench on Wednesday asked all stakeholders, including the Centre, Niti Aayog, Finance Commission and the RBI to brainstorm the issue of freebies promised during elections and come out with constructive suggestions to deal with it.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the government supported the PIL.
All about the PIL and how the issue has panned out in 10 points:
- January 22: A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court on Saturday claiming 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.
- WHAT IT SAID: The plea was filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, contending that such decisions by the political parties violated Articles 14, 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution.
It sought directions to the Election Commission to seize election symbols and deregister political parties that promised to distribute irrational freebies from public funds. The plea claimed political parties’ arbitrarily promises or irrational freebies for wrongful gain and to lure voters in their favor is analogous to bribery and undue influence.
The injury to the citizens is extremely large because Punjab needs Rs 12,000 crore per month to fulfill 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 to power, although GST collection is only Rs 1,400 crore, it pointed out.
The 'Freebie' Alarm | Are SOPs ruining India’s future?
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“In fact, after debt repayment, Punjab government is not able to pay even salaries-pensions, then how will it provide freebies?” The bitter truth is that Punjab’s debt is increasing every subsequent year. State’s outstanding debt has increased to Rs 77,000 crore, with Rs 30,000 crore accumulating in the current financial year itself,” it claimed. The petitioner said that the time is not too far away when one party will say that “we will cook food for you in your residence” and another will say that “we will not only cook, but also feed you” as each party tried to undo each other in terms of populist promises.
- Jan 25: The SC issued a notice seeking directions to the Election Commission (EC) to frame guidelines to stop political parties from promising or distributing “irrational freebies from public funds”.
- January-March: During its campaign for the upcoming assembly elections, the BJP accused the Congress of “doling out freebies” to garner votes instead of empowering the people of India in the last 70 years. The party’s national president, JP Nadda, said the Narendra Modi-led government, meanwhile, had supported people in becoming “self-reliant and empowered them through initiatives like Ujjwala Yojana and Ayushman Bharat”. The AAP, too, had promised free electricity in Punjab.
- APRIL 9: The Election Commission (EC) told the Supreme Court that offering freebies either before or after elections is a policy decision of a political party, and it cannot regulate state policies and decisions taken by the parties.
In an affidavit, the EC said: “Offering/distribution of any freebies either before or after the election is a policy decision of the party concerned and whether such policies are financially viable or its adverse affect on the economic health of the state is a question that has to be considered and decided by the voters of the state.”
“The Election Commission cannot regulate state policies and decisions which may be taken by the winning party when they form the government. Such an action without enabling provisions in the law, would be an overreach of powers.”
The EC clarified that it does not have the power to deregister a political party, except on three grounds, which were outlined by the top court in the case of Indian National Congress Vs Institute of Social Welfare and others (2002).
The grounds are — registration obtained on fraud and forgery, party ceased to have faith and allegiance to the Constitution, and any other similar ground.
- JULY: Replicating the “Delhi Model”, the AAP-led Punjab government started distributing 300 units of free electricity per month to everyone starting this month, their poll promise, despite falling revenues and widening deficit.
- JULY 3: Kejriwal visited Gujarat, where he held a town hall on the issue of free electricity in Ahmedabad. During the interaction with people, he then said free electricity was possible in Gujarat and that he would soon visit the state with a formula on how his party can provide it if voted to power. Presenting the “Delhi model,” he had said free electricity is possible in Gujarat if corruption is eliminated. The AAP has made free electricity a major poll plank in Gujaratwhere polls are due in December.
- JULY 16: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday cautioned people against what he called a “revadi culture” of offering freebies for votes and said this is “very dangerous” for the development of the country. The Prime Minister used ‘revadi’, a popular north Indian sweet often distributed during festivals, as a metaphor for freebies being promised by various parties to grab power and said the people, especially the youth should guard against this.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal launched a veiled attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for cautioning people against those offering freebies for winning votes and said his government’s schemes for free education, healthcare, and electricity were not “freebies” but efforts to lay the foundation for making India the number one country in the world.
- JULY 20: The BJP’s Gujarat unit chief CR Patil warned people that they should not get misguided by the “revadi culture” of freebies as it could eventually turn the state and India into Sri Lanka, which is currently going through a severe economic crisis.
- AUGUST 8: Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the government supported the PIL. Such populist promises have a severe adverse impact on the voters. Not only such freebies distribution inevitably leads to future economic disaster, the voters also cannot exercise their right to choose as an informed, wise decision, the government’s law officer said.
Mehta said a common man will never realize while accepting such freebies that his right pocket is receiving something which is going to be taken away from his left pocket later. He said the poll panel must prevent the freebie culture not only to protect democracy but also to safeguard the economic sustenance of the country.
The counsel for the poll panel, however, said the apex court judgments bind it and hence it cannot act on the issue of freebies. The solicitor general opposed the suggestion by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who has been asked by the bench to assist it during the hearing, that the poll panel be kept out of this exercise.
The law officer said he would not like to undermine the sanctity of the Election Commission as a constitutional body.
The top court has listed the PIL for further hearing on Thursday.