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Updated: July 5, 2013 23:37 IST

Freebies ‘shake the root’ of free and fair elections: court

J. Venkatesan
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Supreme Court on Friday asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines to restrain political parties from promising freebies to voters in their election manifestos. File photo
The Hindu
Supreme Court on Friday asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines to restrain political parties from promising freebies to voters in their election manifestos. File photo

The Bench directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines in consultation with all recognised parties

Although the law is obvious that promises made in an election manifesto cannot be construed as a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, the reality is that distribution of freebies of any kind undoubtedly influences all people and it affects the level-playing field, the Supreme Court said on Friday. A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said: “Freebies shake the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.” Considering that “there is no enactment that directly governs the contents of the manifesto,” the Bench directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with all recognised parties. A separate head for manifesto guidelines could be included in the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates.

The judges said, “We are mindful of the fact that generally parties release their manifesto before the announcement of the election date: in that scenario, strictly speaking, the Election Commission will not have the authority to regulate any act which is done before the announcement of the date. Nevertheless, an exception can be made in this regard as the purpose of the manifesto is directly associated with the election process.”

The Bench directed the Commission to take up this task as early as possible considering its importance. It recorded the need for a separate law, to be passed by the legislature, in this regard for governing the political parties. Referring to the offer of TV sets, the court said: “It is not in dispute that television is a widely used telecommunication medium for receiving moving images. Today, television has a lot of positive effects and influences on our society and culture. Television gives helpful information and it is not an equipment aimed for entertainment alone. The State [Tamil Nadu] government has also asserted that the purpose of distributing colour television sets is not restricted to providing recreation but [extends] to provide general knowledge to the people, more particularly, to the household women … .”

Hence, “we are not inclined to agree with the argument of the appellant that giving of colour TVs, laptops, mixer-grinders, etc, by the government after adhering to due process is not an expense for public purpose. Judicial interference is permissible when the action of the government is unconstitutional and not when such action is not wise or that the extent of expenditure is not for the good of the state. All such questions must be debated and decided in the legislature and not in court.”

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Good judgment ! But a welfare State should not see the service to the people as Profit & Loss A/c of Govt. Giving freebies to poorest of the poor should be of one time affair in rarest of rare situation like floods etc. & it should not be a recurring features (expr.) like free distribution of rice etc. Every Common Man needs, good drinking water, good health system at affordable cost, better roads/streets, good transport system, uninterrupted 24 x 7 Electricity, rice at reasonable price, Shelter at nominal cost, Affordable Good educational systems & assured employment opportunities etc. A Welfare Govt. should work out in these lines, prepare short & long term Plans to achieve this goal within a stipulated period. That’s what our people want from these Governments

from:  Venkat
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 16:05 IST

Well, as the honorable Supreme Court of India made some points very clear in it's aforesaid judgement
1. giving away freebies by political parties in times of elections, makes the level playing field shaky.
2. we are going far-away from the physical necessity of survival in terms of food, clothes and shelter.
3. now luxury become the necessity

A very layman mind takes these giving away TV sets, mixer-grinder, laptops etc, negatively. By doing this, parties "woo" the voter. That's the thing come first and fast in any layman-mind.
But what if, political parties took the path of "encouraging" the voters by doing some "real" charity works, like organizing free medical camps, educating people on some current-issues like corruption, women safety and so on!?

from:  Kuheli
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 10:15 IST

Referring to the offer of TV sets, the court said: “... The State [Tamil Nadu] government has also asserted that the purpose of distributing colour television sets is not restricted to providing recreation but [extends] to provide general knowledge to the people, more particularly, to the household women.."

Does the court really buy this? Are these women going to watch informed debate on issues (there is none on TV, by the way) or educational programs, or TV serials?

The court has once again missed an opportunity to come down heavily on the practice of various Governments in targeting specific sections for votes at the expense of good governance and welfare of the broader society. The equality promised in the constitution has never been strictly enforced by India's supreme court - be it the matter of reservations or Governments spending the public money for self promotion.

from:  Bala Raja
Posted on: Jul 6, 2013 at 07:56 IST

The petition itself seems to be politically motivated. This drama of freebies was done by Karunanidhi also, with color TVs. Why was this petition not raised then. The ignorant seem to forget that its the taxpayers' money that goes into the freebies, not the political parties. Its high time such spoon feeding is stopped. It only gives rise to a benefit claimant society, where everyone expects things handed out to them.

from:  Nitya
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 20:19 IST

''Instead of objecting to the offering of Freebies,there should
be law to prevent the elected government to give freebies whether
promised or not.Even the present ordinance on food security would fall
in this category of Free bites with 2014 elections in sight.May be any
welfare would attract this objection.Government with majority in the
house could go through that and when in minority they have to go on
talking about that and wait to go through that with a ordinance.Incomes
through are used for various purposes and there is no point in grudging
about that since it is government business Time immemorial all around
the world.

from:  T.S.Gopalakrishnan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 20:08 IST

What we badly need everywhere is safe drinking water, affordable healthcare, and education
for all and not these freebies.

from:  Shekar
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 17:38 IST

Can a court direct ECI to frame guidelines on matters exclusively
reserved for conscience of executive heads who mostly happen to be
respective political parties' bosses? While the suggestions or
directions or observations are always welcome in pursuit of achieving
ends of good democracy, because ultimately that is what we need, we
should also recognize the fact that a law or an amendment meant for
providing solace to economically marginalized sections falls within
the purview of welfare state and its organizers, in which the courts
of land should have least to say. And that's what's enshrined in the
constitution of India, 1950. Courts can only inspect something that
has gone wrong in directives of a Government Order, or at most detect
loose ends, such as those in LARR bill, and term them like they did in
2G licenses. It's for the voters of nation who have power to oust bad
governance to decide if the freebies make any sense to their daily
wear and tear. Excuse me Apex Court!

from:  Santhosh Saikrishna
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 17:16 IST

Good work done by petitioner for bringing into limelite. How about the parties owning the cost of freebies?

from:  M Subbramanian
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 16:42 IST

If the direction of the Supreme Court is implemented by the Election Commission of India,bribing the voters indirectly by the Political parties will come to an end.But our Politicians are very smart enough to find some other methods to fool the voters.
The Election Commission of India should stop the corrupt practices of the Political parties with iron hand and it should not hesitate to d-recognize such Political parties.

from:  V.Shanmuganathan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 16:32 IST

A grand way to start the much needed reforms in electoral process. It is not a surprise that the initiative has come from the apex court. Our political parties both from the executive and opposition worked with perfect coordination and cooperation to maintain status quo on this issue. Our political culture is breeding on these gaps and systemic flaws of our representative democracy and making a mockery of it.
Sincerity of political parties has been evident from the issues like bringing in Right to recall, NOTA provision or Rule 49-O(hope Supreme Court shall decide on this case sooner) and more recently RTI on political parties.
If this is the way of running our polity, our Honorable Law Minister innocently asks for executive say in political appointments and want the Judiciary to refrain from making casual observations on legislature and executive. If there is another better way for appointments in higher judiciary, it is definitely not the one that give a veto for the Law Minister.

from:  Harish
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 15:49 IST

The directive given by the Supreme court to the Election Commission
on freebies being promised by the political parties to the electorate
is a welcome step. Strict instructions should be given to all the
political parties not to indulge in such practices and stringent
action should follow if any one transgresses the instructions given
by the Election Commission.

from:  V.seetharamiah
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 15:03 IST

Kudos to S Subramaniam Balaji who has brought this obnoxious practice
into the legal limelight. I am sure that with proper guidelines, now
elections could be fought more on achievements rather than on purchasing
votes. Of course, I still think the freebies really do not shape a
victory, as all parties offer them and the people still vote on issues.
The judgement of the electorate is not recognised. For example, during
the last TN elections, both main parties offered freebies, but the scams
weighed with the electorate.

from:  T N Kumar
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 14:57 IST

Good observation. Freebies is a mockery of our democracy.

from:  Mahadevan
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 14:49 IST

As much as I have understood the constitutional scheme of separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary, it seems that this ruling by the Supreme Court violates that arrangement by asking the parliament to legislate on a particular issue, that toO in a particular manner. I am a little confused whether the courts are meant to interpret existing laws or whether the courts can direct legislatures to enact specific laws.

from:  Ashutosh Panchbhai
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 14:15 IST

It is essential to have strict guidelines for election manifesto and it must ensure that political parties cannot promise to rob the state exchequer to win votes.
They are promising it from the money that does not belong to the party. The money belongs to the people and not to the party. The party cannot talk about other people's money.
To prevent robbing the exchequer, there should be a law that any govt scheme that promises free/subsidized things to people should be approved by 2/3rd majority in the house. The money belongs to people who are represented by opposition parties also. They govt is only a custodian of the public money, it is not the owner. For example, it cannot send the money abroad or invest in share market.

from:  Abhinav
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 14:03 IST

That would be fantastic. Please stop these senseless, but smart politicians from doing this. Try to bring some sanity in implementing the laws, try giving them jobs, encourage farming and industries. By just providing freebies, they are just wasting the precious hard earned money of the middle working class people. They ensure that poor remain poor, rich grow richer and the middle class struggle forever.

from:  Narendra Kumar.M.S.
Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 13:30 IST

Very good and bold move from Supreme court.At the same time we have to
thank Mr.S.Subramaniam Balaji for his initiative

Posted on: Jul 5, 2013 at 13:26 IST
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