The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre and the Election Commission to respond to a petition seeking a court order to seize a political party’s symbol or deregister it if it promises or distributes “irrational freebies” before elections, saying it is a “serious issue” because “freebie budgets sometimes go beyond the regular budget.”
A bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli asked for a response to the PIL filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay within four weeks. The petition filed ahead of assembly elections in five states stated that such populist measures to gain undue political favour from voters should be completely prohibited because they violate the Constitution and that the EC should take appropriate deterrent measures.
“Let’s see what happens.” After hearing brief arguments, the bench said, “For the time being, we will issue notice and let the Government of India and the Election Commission respond.”
Political parties may be added as parties to the plea later, according to the bench.
“Even if it does not amount to corrupt the chance of winning much, the parties that make more promises have an advantage and a better chance of winning the elections.”
It took note of the fact that, following the apex court’s ruling on the issue, the poll panel held only one meeting on the promise of freebies during elections. “The Election Commission was directed by the Supreme Court to draught guidelines on this.”
“They’ve framed guidelines, but they’re toothless (ineffective),” said the senior lawyer. At the outset, Singh stated that in states with massive debt, parties are promising freebies, and as you can see, it is ultimately the public’s money that is promised to be given.
Every political party is doing the same thing and there has to be some legislation on this aspect, he said, adding, “I don’t want to name any political party.”
“If every party has been doing the same thing,” the bench said, “then why have you named only two (political) parties in the affidavit?” Singh was asked to read the Supreme Court’s decision on the matter. The law is needed to regulate activities such as promises and the distribution of “irrational freebies” from public funds before elections, according to the lawyer.
“Please see Article 282 of the Constitution, which requires the legislature to approve all expenditures. The law will have to be followed if it is passed by the legislature… When one party offers each woman Rs 1,000, the other responds with FRs 2,000. If elections are conducted in this manner, who will ultimately be responsible for paying this money… Take a look at Punjab’s debt it was 1.82 thousand crore is,” the lawyer said
The judge instructed the lawyer not to name a state and instead to refer to the pleadings to suggest a solution to the threat.
“Let’s pretend for a moment that we’ll issue a notice and request that the Centre and the Election Commission file affidavits. “We need to know how we’re going to manage all of this,” the bench said.
According to the lawyer, an order can be issued to take away the poll symbol or recognition, or not to grant recognition to a particular party that engages in this type of activity. The bench stated that the elections will be over by the time some orders are passed, referring to upcoming elections. According to Singh, there will be something for the next election.
“This unethical practice is akin to paying bribes to the electorate at the expense of the exchequer to stay in power,” it said. The court was asked to rule that promising irrational freebies from public funds before elections have an undue influence on voters, disrupts the level playing field, and taints the election process. The petition refers to promises made by various political parties in the ongoing assembly poll process in some states in the country.
The petitioner has requested the Court to declare that promising or distributing private goods or services from public funds for non-public purposes before elections violates several Constitutional articles, including Article 14. The petition has been filed in response to promises made by certain political parties during the ongoing assembly election process in some states.
The electoral process is the fulcrum of democracy, and the distribution of money and promises of freebies has reached alarming levels, with elections being overturned several times, according to the report.
“Petitioner contends that arbitrary promises of irrational freebies are in violation of the ECI’s mandate for free and fair elections and that distributing private goods-services from public funds clearly violates Articles 14, 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution.”