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Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Election freebies: Supreme Court refers matter to three-judge bench

The Supreme Court said that the issues raised by the petitioners require an ‘extensive hearing’ before any concrete orders can be passed.

"The worry raised by the petitioner that under the guise of welfare, fiscal responsibility is dispensed with, must also be considered," Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said. The CJI pointed out that the issue requires "extensive hearing".

THE SUPREME Court on Friday referred petitions seeking ban on freebies distributed by political parties before elections to a three-judge bench which it said will look into prayers for reconsidering the top court’s 2013 judgment in S Subramaniam Balaji vs State case of Tamil Nadu.

The 2013 verdict had held that such promises of freebies cannot be termed corrupt practice.

A bench presided by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said some of the parties had submitted “that the reasoning in the above judgment is flawed as it has not considered various provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951”.

“It was also submitted that the judgment incorrectly implies that the Directive Principles of State Policy can override the Fundamental Rights under Part III of the Constitution, which is against the law settled by a Constitution Bench of this court in” the 1980 decision in Minerva Mills Ltd. v. Union of India case, it said.

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“Looking at the complexity of the issues involved, and the prayer to overrule a judgment rendered by a two-judge bench of this court in S Subramaniam Balaji… we direct listing of these set of petitions before a three-judge bench after obtaining the orders of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India,” the bench, also comprising Justices Hima Kohli and C T Ravikumar, ordered.

Hearing a petition filed by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, who sought a ban on promise of freebies by political parties in the run-up to elections, the court had initially mulled setting up a committee to go into the issue and make recommendations.

“Initially, with the objective of initiating a discussion about the issues highlighted, we were of the opinion that it might be appropriate to constitute an expert body to prepare a report or white paper which could suggest a way forward,” the bench said. Subsequently, there were intervention applications by some parties who contended that “all promises cannot be equated with freebies as they relate to welfare schemes or measures for the public good”, it said.

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The bench added that “at the same time, the worry raised by the petitioners herein, that under the guise of electoral promises, fiscal responsibility is being dispensed with, must also be considered”.

Considering the various arguments, it said in its Friday’s order that “ultimately, it appears to us that the issues raised by the parties require an extensive hearing before any concrete orders can be passed”.

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The bench pointed out that “certain preliminary issues that may need to be deliberated upon and decided in the present set of petitions are…What is the scope of judicial intervention with respect to the reliefs sought in the present batch of petitions?…Whether any enforceable order can be passed by this court on these petitions?…Whether the appointment of a commission/expert body by the court would serve any purpose in this matter?…What should be the scope, composition, and powers of the said commission/expert body?”

A two-judge bench in the Subramaniam Balaji case had held that the “state distributing 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” and warrants no interference by the court.

In the 2006 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, the DMK had promised free colour TV sets to all households which did not possess it, if it was elected to power. The DMK won the polls and provision of Rs 750 crore was made in the Budget for implementing the promise. In the 2011 Assembly polls, the ruling DMK announced more freebies. The opposition AIADMK-led alliance too announced free grinders, mixies, electric fans and laptop computers among others. The AIADMK won the polls and took steps to implement the promise. Subramanian Balaji challenged these schemes in court.

First published on: 26-08-2022 at 11:10:39 am
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