The question is not whether the AAP government is right or wrong in making public transport free for females, or even, for that matter, whether the other sops it plans to roll out, on electricity and water, for instance, are economically-sound decisions.
The Supreme Court (SC), on Friday, warned the Arvind Kerjriwal-led Delhi government against its plan of making metro rides free for women, asserting that it was not beyond the powers of the apex court to intervene in case of mismanagement of public money to provide sops and freebies. Justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta, while hearing the matter of the construction of Phase IV of the Delhi Metro, opined that allowing people to travel free would run the Delhi Metro into a loss, and, given the Delhi government’s insistence that the Centre must share any further operational losses that DMRC may suffer, the scale of loss of public funds is unjustifiable. The SC may be right about the distortionary effect freebies have, but dictating, or declaring its intent to dictate, to a democratically elected government on how it should spend public funds is, in principle, overreach.
The question is not whether the AAP government is right or wrong in making public transport free for females, or even, for that matter, whether the other sops it plans to roll out, on electricity and water, for instance, are economically-sound decisions. At the heart of the matter is whether the SC is right in interfering in the matters that are exclusively the turf of the legislature. More so, since it has set no precedent in this regard, cautioning against similar channelling of public money to freebies and sops, say, under the National Food Security Act, which gives almost two-thirds of the country’s population substantial subsidies. In intervening in matters of governance, the SC is not only reaching beyond its given mandate but also violating the constitutional principle of the unbiased, and independent functioning of the state organ. There are many institutional mechanisms to check for the soundness, or the lack thereof, of a government’s spending decisions. The SC should refrain from pronouncing in a manner that tramples on the separation of powers.