The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought responses from the Centre and the Election Commission in response to a petition seeking a court order to seize a political party's symbol or deregister it if it promises or distributes irrational freebies before elections, saying it is a serious issue because freebie budgets sometimes exceed regular budgets. Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, together with justices A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli, asked for a response to the PIL filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay within four weeks.
The petition, submitted before of assembly elections in five states, stated that such populist efforts to garner excessive political favor from voters should be completely prohibited since they violate the Constitution and that the EC should adopt appropriate deterrent actions.
The bench took note of senior advocate Vikas Singh's submissions on behalf of Upadhyay that a law should be enacted on the issue and that steps such as the seizure of party symbols or the revocation of party registration, or both, should be considered because, in the end, it is the citizens who must pay up. Political parties may be added as parties to the plea later, the bench said. "In the argument, I'm posing some legal questions." We want to know how to keep track of everything. Without a doubt, this is a severe problem. Freebie budgets go beyond regular budgets, and they aren't always on an equal playing field, as the Supreme Court noted in this paragraph (of an earlier case). "Even though it does not amount to corrupt activities under the law, parties that make more promises have an advantage and a better chance of winning elections," the bench concluded. It took note of the fact that, following the top court's ruling on the subject, the poll panel held only one meeting on the promise of freebies during elections. The Election Commission was ordered by the Supreme Court to develop guidelines in this area. The senior lawyer stated that they had set guidelines, but they were toothless.
At the outset, Singh stated that in states with massive debt, parties are promising freebies, and that, as you can see, it is ultimately the public's money that is promised to be delivered. Every political party is doing the same thing, he claimed, adding, "I don't want to mention any political party."
The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to rule that promising or distributing private goods or services from public monies for non-public purposes before elections breaches various sections of the Constitution, including Article 14 of the Constitution (equality before law). The petition has been filed in response to promises made by various political parties during the present assembly election process in some states.
The electoral process is the fulcrum of democracy, and the flow of money and promises of goodies has reached frightening proportions, with elections being overturned multiple times, according to the report. The petitioner claims that arbitrary promises of nonsensical freebies are in violation of the ECI's mission for free and fair elections, and that distributing private goods and services from public funds clearly violates Articles 14, 162, 266(3), and 282 of the Constitution.