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SC issues notices to Centre, EC on PIL seeking ban on irrational poll-eve freebies

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, January 25

As political parties attempt to woo the electorate by populist promises in the ensuing assembly polls in five states, including Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court on Tuesday issued notices to the Centre and the Election Commission on a PIL seeking a ban on irrational poll-eve freebies using public funds.

A Bench led by CJI NV Ramana asked the Centre and the EC to respond in four weeks to the PIL filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking a direction to the commission to seize election symbols and deregister political parties that promised to distribute irrational freebies to voters from public funds. It said political parties should also be made parties to the PIL.

Holding that freebies promised in poll manifestos vitiated the electoral process, the top court had on July 5, 2013 asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines to check it in consultation of political parties.

On Tuesday, the CJI lamented that the EC has held only one meeting with political parties on the issue after the top court’s order. On behalf of the petitioner — ndash; a Delhi BJP leader, senior counsel Vikas Singh contended that the promise of irrational freebies from public funds before elections unduly influenced voters and disturbed level-playing field.

Such freebies shook the roots of a free and fair election, and vitiated the purity of the election process, the petitioner submitted. Such promises by the political parties violated Articles 14, 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution and amounted to bribery and undue influence under Section 171B and Section 171C of the IPC , he contended.

“The injury to the citizens is extremely large because Punjab needs Rs 12,000 crore per month to fulfil the political promises if AAP comes to power, Rs 25,000 crore per month if SAD comes to power and Rs 30,000 crore (per month) if Congress comes in power, though GST collection is Rs 1400 crore only,” Upadhyay submitted.

“In fact, after debt repayment, the Punjab government is not able to pay even salaries-pensions, then how will it provide freebies? The bitter truth is that Punjab’s debt is increasing every subsequent year. The state’s outstanding debt has increased to Rs 77,000 crore, with Rs 30,000 crore accumulating in the present financial year itself,” the PIL pointed out.

“Political parties are prioritizing their self-interest over national interest and the public fund, which should have been properly utilized to secure fundamental rights of citizens, is being used to lure voters,” Upadhyay said, adding “Unless some mechanism is put in place, political parties would try to buy out the voters by hook or crook as their aim is only to ascend to power.”

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