SC asks Centre to seek Finance Commission’s views on regulating freebies by political parties

A bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana said that it is a “serious” issue and asked the Centre to file its response on August 3.

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to seek the Finance Commission’s views on whether revenue allocation to states can account for “irrational freebies” announced by the political parties during election campaigns to entice the voters.

A bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana said that it is a “serious” issue and asked the Centre to file its response on August 3. It also asked for suggestions to control these freebies.

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal told the Bench that the Finance Commission can take into account debt burden on states due to freebies promised by the political parties. “Finance Commission is an appropriate and independent body, which can give suggestions in the matter. It would consider whether freebies could destablise the economy,” he said, adding that the freebies announced by the political parties is a serious matter but difficult to control politically.

However, the Election Commission of India (ECI), on the other hand, in its affidavit had said “whether such policies are financially viable or its adverse effect on the economic health of the State is a question that has to be considered and decided by the voters of the State”. The EC’s counsel submitted that it was held in previous judgments that a manifesto was part of the promises of a political party.

“The Commission cannot regulate state policies and decisions which may be taken by the winning party when they form the government. Such an action without enabling provisions in the law, would be an overreach of its powers,” the ECI stated.

The top court was hearing a PIL by BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking a direction to the ECI to prevent political parties from promising or distributing “irrational freebies” from public fund and deregister political parties or seize election symbol, promising such things before elections. The petitioner suggested the EC should debar political parties promising freebies. The PIL 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.

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