The Top Court issued a notice to the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Centre on the issue of political parties wooing voters with the promise of freebies ahead of the upcoming assembly elections in five states this year. The Supreme Court said the promise of freebies was a 'serious issue'.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said, "I want to know how to control this legally. Can this be done during these elections? It has to be for the next election. It's a serious issue. The freebies budget goes beyond the regular budget."
"There are States which have a debt burden of 3 lakh per person and then freebies are being offered. The Election Commission framed guidelines without any teeth. Every party is doing it, I don't want to name," senior advocate Singh said.
To this, the CJI asked if every party has indulged in freebies, why the petitioner has mentioned only two political parties in the plea.
“Petitioner submits that recent trend of political parties to influence voters by 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,” said the plea filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey.
“This unethical practice is just like giving bribes to the electorate at the cost of the exchequer to stay in power and must be avoided to preserve democratic principles and practices,” it said.
The petition also sought a direction to the ECI to insert an additional condition in the relevant paragraphs of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order 1968, which deals with conditions for recognition as a state party, that a "political party shall not promise/distribute irrational freebies from the public fund before the election".
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 petition of the present 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 fashionable for the political parties to announce free electricity in their election manifesto though the 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 recognized as a fundamental right, the petition added.