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SC asks Centre to find solution to promise of freebies by political parties

he top court had sought a response from the Centre and ECI on the plea and agreed to hear the case while observing that it’s a serious issue

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Central government to take a stand on the need to control the issue of political parties promising to distribute irrational freebies from public funds during election campaigns.

A bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli asked the Centre to consider whether the suggestions of the Finance Commission can be sought for a solution. During the hearing, CJI sought the opinion of senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was present in court for some other matter, on freebies by political parties during the election campaign.

“Mr Sibal is here. As a senior parliamentarian. What is your view?” CJI asked.

“It’s a serious issue but difficult to control politically. The Finance Commission when it does allocation to various states, they can take into account the debt of the state and the quantum of freebies. The Finance Commission is the appropriate authority to deal with it. Maybe we can invite the Commission to look into this aspect. The Centre cannot be expected to issue directions,” Sibal said.

The bench then asked Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for the Central government, to seek Commission’s view on Sibal’s suggestions.

“Mr Nataraj, please ask Finance Commission to look into this. Please see how a debate can be initiated,” said the bench while posting it for hearing on August 3.

The top court was hearing a plea seeking direction to seize election symbols and deregister political parties that promised to distribute irrational freebies from public funds.

During the hearing, advocate Amit Sharma appearing for the Election Commission of India (ECI) told the apex court that it was held in previous judgments that a manifesto was part of the promises of a political party and suggested that the Central government could bring in a law to deal with the issue.


ASG Nataraj said that it was in the domain of the Election Commission of India.

“Why don’t you say that you have nothing to do with it and the ECI has to take a call? I am asking if the Government of India is considering whether it’s a serious issue or not? You take a stand and then we will decide whether these freebies are to be continued or not. Why is the Centre hesitating to take a stand?” asked CJI.

Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, the petitioner in the case, said the issue was “serious” and demanded that the poll panel should bar the state and national political parties from giving freebies.

Upadhyay said there is a total debt of several lakh crores in states. “We are on our way to becoming Sri Lanka,” he also added.

Earlier, the top court had sought a response from the Centre and ECI on the plea and agreed to hear the case while observing that it’s a serious issue which may influence the electorate and affect the fairness of polls.

Upadhyay in his plea has claimed that political parties’ arbitrary promises of irrational freebies for wrongful gain and to lure voters in their favour are analogous to bribery and undue influences.

It claimed that promise or distribution of irrational freebies from public funds before elections could unduly influence the voters, shake the roots of a free and fair election, and disturb the level playing field, besides vitiating the purity of the election process.

Ashwini Upadhyay

“Direct and declare that promise/distribution of irrational freebies from the public fund before the election to lure voters is analogous to the Bribery and Undue Influence under Section 171B and Section 171C of the IPC,” the plea stated.

It further sought direction to the ECI to insert an additional condition: “political party shall not promise/distribute irrational freebies from the public fund before the election” in paras 6A, 6B and 6C of the Election Symbols Order 1968.

It said that “rather than promising better rule of law, equal pay for equal work, clean water, equal quality education, quality healthcare, quality infrastructure, speedy justice, free legal aid, citizen charter, judicial charter, efficient police system, effective administrative system; political parties arbitrarily promised irrational freebies from the public fund”.

The petition 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 a fashion for the political parties to announce free electricity in their election manifesto though 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.

“Political parties announce unemployment allowance in the manifesto which makes youth lazy and dampen the working culture of the people. Rather than giving unemployment allowance, executives should provide a quality education so that youth can create job opportunities on their own. In this process, honest taxpayers have been made a mute spectator. Petitioner submits that healthcare infrastructure is not good as it was seen during Covid times but political parties are ignorant of it,” the plea further submitted.