“Freebie Budget Going Beyond Regular Budget”: Supreme Court Airs Concern

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The Supreme Court today issued notice to the Centre and the Election Commission regarding guidelines on “freebies” promised by political parties before elections. Calling it a “serious issue”, the court said that the “freebie budget” is going beyond the regular budget. It has sought a response from the poll body and the union government in four weeks.

The Chief Justice of India said that the Supreme Court, in a different issue, had directed the poll body to frame guidelines on the matter but the poll body held just one meeting whose outcome is unknown.

“Within the limited scope, we had directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines. But subsequently, they conducted only one meeting after our directions. They sought views from political parties and thereafter I do not know what happened,” N. V. Ramana, the Chief Justice of India, said.

A bench of CJI NV Ramana, Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli was hearing a plea filed by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay saying public funds were being misused by all political parties, pushing states deeper into debt. Senior Advocate Vikas Singh appeared for the petitioner.

The plea seeks directions to the Election Commission to seize election symbols and deregister political parties that promised to distribute irrational freebies from public funds. “Money of the citizens is being misused despite the Election Commission rules,” it said.

The plea also claims that promise or distribution of irrational freebies from public funds before elections could unduly influence the voters. “It shakes the roots of a free and fair election, disturbs level playing field and vitiates purity of the election process,” Mr Upadhyay’s plea stated, adding that the “recent trend” of 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 court noted that even it has in the past observed that it’s not a level playing field and that parties make more promises to win elections.

The plea called it an “unethical practice”, akin to bribing the electorate at the cost of the exchequer to stay in power. “It must be avoided to preserve democratic principles and practices,” the plea added.

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