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‘Freebies leading India to economic disaster’ — Modi govt backs PIL seeking bar on poll sops

PIL filed by BJP spokesperson in SC has sought a stop to parties promising & distributing ‘irrational freebies’ during poll campaigns. CJI proposes setting up a panel to look into issue.

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New Delhi: The Modi government Wednesday came out in support of a public interest litigation (PIL) urging the Supreme Court to stop political parties from promising and distributing “irrational freebies” during election campaigns.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the Union government and submitted before a bench led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana that populist promises “distort the informed decision-making process of a voter”. The PIL has been filed by advocate and BJP spokesperson Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.

“We are heading towards an economic disaster. Let the Election Commission (EC) of India apply its mind and we can give our suggestions to your lordships. Please do something about it,” Mehta told the bench. 

The bench had, during the last hearing held in April, flagged the issue of freebies as “serious”, after the central government, then represented by Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, could not present a clear-cut stand on the PIL.

The EC has already filed an affidavit in court in which the poll panel has said it won’t intervene, and added that voters can decide during elections whether the freebies policy is financially viable, or has an adverse effect on the economic health of the State.

The Centre, in its submission before the top court Wednesday, took a stand on the issue for the first time.

Ultimately, the CJI said that a panel including members of various government organisations, central and state governments and political parties could be set up to look into the freebies issue.

Also Read: Shun freebie promises, BJP tells state units after Modi’s ‘revadi culture’ jibe at opposition

Let EC take relook, says solicitor general

Mehta said the government supported “the petitioner’s argument”.

“Let the ECI take a relook. The voter does not realise that by the end of five years, it (freebies) is taken back from him. It is like getting something in the right pocket and then taking it back from my left pocket later,” Mehta added.  

CJI Ramana, however, said that it was not possible for him to force the EC to have a relook. “It (EC) has given up its hands (sic),” he told Solicitor General Mehta, who insisted that the commission be asked to reconsider its view.

Said Mehta: “The commission can always have a look at it. There can be a model code with some teeth.

The solicitor general’s suggestion was rebutted by the EC’s counsel, who said the commission had taken a stand in its affidavit. At this, Mehta retorted: “But there cannot be any opposition to having a relook.”

CJI Ramana concurred with Mehta’s views that freebies have an adverse impact on the country’s economy. Freebies, he said, can be extended only to a particular segment of society — the downtrodden. But to what extent it can be given should be determined, he added.

CJI proposes high-powered panel

To do the same, the CJI proposed setting up a high-powered panel comprising members from various bodies such as the NITI Aayog, the Reserve Bank of India, the Finance Commission, the Law Commission, the EC as well as political parties, state governments and the Centre.

The bench directed all the parties to make suggestions about the composition of such a panel and asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal to give his views on the same.

“I would like to have the assistance of an experienced parliamentarian,” the CJI said, adding: “This matter requires deliberations, but the court is not an appropriate forum for the same, since it may consume a lot of time.”

On his part, Sibal opposed Mehta’s idea to let the EC have a relook. “ECI has today become MFI — most favourite institution. But this is not an election issue and is more political and economic,” Sibal said. He advised that the Finance Commission should look into the matter and submit a report to the government that must follow its recommendations.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: Why Punjab, Bihar, Rajasthan, Andhra, UP must learn from Sri Lanka, cut debt and freebies


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