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EC welcomes panel to review freebies culture, but says can’t be part of it

“Inputs have been taken from various ministries and departments, which will be placed before the SC. The Centre is against populist promises that could lead to fiscal disasters,” a senior official told FE.

However, the Election Commission of India (EC) has expressed its inability to be part of any such committee, saying it would not be “appropriate” for the constitutional authority to be part of the panel as it will “disturb the level-playing field”.
However, the Election Commission of India (EC) has expressed its inability to be part of any such committee, saying it would not be “appropriate” for the constitutional authority to be part of the panel as it will “disturb the level-playing field”.

The Centre, which has expressed concerns over the culture of political parties offering freebies to the electorate ahead of elections, will tell the Supreme Court on Thursday whether it is open to setting up of an expert committee as suggested by the court to examine the issue.

However, the Election Commission of India (EC) has expressed its inability to be part of any such committee, saying it would not be “appropriate” for the constitutional authority to be part of the panel as it will “disturb the level-playing field”.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta is likely to put across the suggestions of the government when a Bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana hears the case on Thursday.

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On August 3, the SC had advised the Union government to form a composite expert committee to examine the pros and cons of freebies given out by governments and ways to curb irrational electoral promises that cost the exchequer dear. The committee may deliberate on the issue and come out with a report, it said. The panel may comprise Niti Aayog, RBI, EC, Finance Commission, ruling and opposition parties and other stakeholders, the SC had said.

“Inputs have been taken from various ministries and departments, which will be placed before the SC. The Centre is against populist promises that could lead to fiscal disasters,” a senior official told FE.

Replying to the apex court’s suggestions, the EC has welcomed the setting up of any such expert committee having representation from a wide spectrum of the government and non-governmental bodies, concerned regulatory, planning, policy research institutions, political parties, domain experts crisscrossing relevant socio-economic sectors like agriculture, finance, banking, social justice and environment.

Committing to give its highest consideration to the expert body suggestion in strengthening/modifying its existing guidelines in the interest of purity of electoral process, the Commission said that it would be greatly benefitted by the recommendations of the expert body that the SC may deem appropriate to set up.

The CJI during the hearing had said that the practice of political parties promising free goods and services to electorate if voted to power are “serious economic issues” related to policy and every stakeholder, including “taxpayers and beneficiaries”, should participate in the debate.

NK Singh, who chaired the latest (15th) Finance Commission (FC) and headed the panel that recommended capping of the general government debt at 60% of the gross domestic product, recently told FE that while tax devolution is states’ inalienable right, the FC could be one of the institutional mechanisms to regulate spending on freebies, which destroy the foundation of macroeconomic stability. He said the revenue deficit grants to states, for instance, could be linked to curbing of freebies and off-budget liabilities.

Speaking at an event on Wednesday, prime minister Narendra Modi too had come out strongly against such “irrational” welfare measures, saying “selfish announcements of freebies will prevent the country from becoming self-reliant, increase burden on honest taxpayers and prevent investment in new technologies.”

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