As poll campaign ends, SC readies to examine validity of freebies | India News – Times of India

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NEW DELHI: As campaigning ends for the last phase of general elections marked by announcements of freebies and cash doles, the Supreme Court readies to hear a bunch of two-year-old PILs that demand political parties to compute the fiscal burden and fund mobilization for these freebies.
From free education and meals for students in the 1950s, to free ration in the 1960s, free colour TVs, laptops and mixer-grinder by the turn of the century, it quickly escalated to free electricity, water and bus ride in the present day, political parties have scaled new heights with every general and assembly elections to pitch freebies as vote-catching tactics.
A bench of CJI D Y Chandrachud, and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra had heard detailed arguments on a bunch of PILs, led by one filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhya, consecutively on November 22-23 last year. But, thereafter, the cases remained part-heard. Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria on a couple of occasions requested the CJI, prior to voting, for completion of the hearing. However, the matter remained off the bench’s roster.
SC registry sources said the matter is likely to be listed for hearing shortly after the court resumes normal work on July 8 after a month and half long summer vacation. The PILs were referred to a three-judge bench on Aug 26, 2022, by a bench headed by then CJI N V Ramana, as it realized that adjudicating the reliefs sought in these petitions would require reconsideration of a two-judge bench verdict in S Subramaniam Balaji judgment of 2013.
In Balaji judgment, the SC while examining the petitioner’s plea that competitive announcement of freebies by DMK and AIADMK, amounted to bribing the voters to influence their voting and hence a corrupt practice under the Representation of People Act.
The SC had disagreed and said, “It is well settled that the concept of livelihood is no longer confined to bare physical survival in terms of food, clothing and shelter but also now necessarily includes basic medicines, preliminary education, transport, etc. Hence, the State distrusting largesse in the form of distribution of colour TVs, laptops, etc. to eligible and deserving persons is directly related to the directive principles of the State policy.”
In contrast, the SC while dealing with Upadhyay-led PILs on Aug 26, 2022, said, “Freebies may create a situation wherein the State Government cannot provide basic amenities due to lack of funds and the State is pushed towards imminent bankruptcy. In the same breath, we should remember that such freebies are extended utilizing taxpayers’ money only for increasing the popularity of the party and electoral prospects.”
On the same breath, it had said, “all promises cannot be equated with freebies as they relate to welfare schemes or measures for the public good. Not only are these a part of the Directive Principles of state policy but are also a responsibility of the welfare state.”
The EC, after initial reluctance to take a stand recently filed an affidavit in the SC proposing that parties can be asked to provide data on estimated number of beneficiaries, likely expenditure and total financial burden and the means to generate the amount required to fulfil the promises. But the political parties have suggested to the court not to venture into the arena of electoral politics and said the parties are responsible enough to understand the fiscal burden while announcing freebies.
If the EC proposal finds workable in the eyes of the SC, then political parties would have to employ economists to answer queries about the impact of financing implementation of freebies on the fiscal sustainability of state/country, its effect on debt servicing, and whether the party, on coming to power, would resort to additional borrowings.



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