The Delhi High Court has dismissed a petition challenging political parties’ alleged practice of offering cash rewards in exchange for votes during elections. The issue of political parties’ promising freebies to voters if they are elected to power was raised in the Subramaniam Balaji case.
The Supreme Court had ordered the Election Commission to draft guidelines that directly govern the contents of election manifestos in consultation with all recognised political parties.
The issue had already been considered by the Supreme Court in S. Subramaniam Balaji v. the State of Tamil Nadu, and the present case is no different, according to a Division Bench consisting of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla.
Following that, the ECI issued guidelines, which are now part of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), for political parties and candidates to follow when releasing election manifestos for any election to the Parliament or State Legislatures.
The development resulted in a petition filed by Parashar Narayan Sharma, who claimed that the practice of political parties offering cash benefits ostensibly in exchange for votes is contrary to the spirit of Section 123 (Corrupt practises) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, the ECI’s Model Code of Conduct, and the Supreme Court judgement.
As a result, he requested a declaration that political parties’ offering of cash transfers or freebies in election manifestos is a corrupt electoral practice that violates the Indian Constitution.
ESI guidelines states that the manifestos should reflect the rationale for promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements in the interest of transparency, level playing field, and credibility of promises.
It should be noted, however, that election law does not make manifesto promises enforceable. Thus, the Election Commission argued that “freebies” are not prohibited under the MCC.
The Petitioner, on the other hand, argued that promising ‘transfer of cash’ in an election manifesto is not the same as promising freebies and that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to consider the issue.
He claimed that luring voters with the promise of immediate gratification in the form of cash without any exchange of labour or work is illegal and undermines free and fair elections. He continued by stating that such practices have an impact on taxpayers.
The Bench stated, “Primarily expressing disagreement with the Petitioner’s submission,” “What makes freebie distribution unique? You can give it in cash or in kind. There is no difference in the end, the taxpayer will have to shake out money.”
The Bench responded by stating that the MCC requires manifestos to include a ‘rationale’ for the promise. As a result, the plea was dismissed.