The Supreme Court has asked the central government to inquire with the Finance Commission of India (FCI) about a way to prevent political parties from promising and distributing irrational freebies during election campaigns. The hearing was held in response to a writ petition alleging that the distribution of irrational freebies amounted to bribery and undue influence over voters.
According to the petitioner, the debts of the states totalled more than 70 lakh crore. Hence, the petitioner appealed that the Law Commission of India be asked to examine the statutes to control the distribution of unreasonable freebies.
What is ‘freebies’?
- The term “freebies” means a dole or a gift given to the general public. However, freebies can come in a variety of forms.
- It includes expenditure under populist pressure or with elections in mind as well as expenditure in the form of subsidies to provide relief to the population.
- The first one may be questionable, while the second one may not be unjustified, as it may be necessary for the economy to maintain its current growth rate.
Political freebies –
- Freebies are the best gainful methods adopted by political parties to lure voters.
- In order to secure the vote of the people, political parties promise free electricity, free water supply, as well as gadgets such as laptops, smartphones, etc.
- The origin of freebie culture in the country can be traced to Tamil Nadu’s politics. Following that, political parties across the country used this as a method of wooing voters.
- It is not a corrupt practice under the Representation of People Act.
Previous court ruling on freebies –
- Promise of freebies in polls a ‘serious issue’ says SC (January, 2022) —
- The SC said political parties competing with each other to announce freebies during electioneering has the potential to upset states’ finances and vitiate free and fair polls.
- The apex court noted that freebies culture disturbs the level playing field, by giving a candidate of a political party (which announces a large number of freebies), a winning edge in the elections.
- The court had directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to frame guidelines in this respect.
- Political parties should not promise freebies says SC (2013) —
- The apex court observed that freebies shake the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.
- A SC bench ruled that currently the election manifesto (containing provisions for freebies) is not governed by any law.
- Hence, it directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with all recognised parties.
- The apex court also said that separate legislation should be made on this issue.
Stand of Election Commission –
- ECI had submitted an affidavit on this issue in the court. It highlighted the following points —
- Whether such policies are financially viable or adversely affect the economic health of the State is a question that has to be considered and decided by the voters of the State.
- The recognition and continuation of State and national parties were based on one touchstone electoral performance.
- This was stated by ECI in response to the petitioner’s request of seizing the election symbols of parties which promise gifts.
- Preventing parties from promising or distributing freebies from public funds prior to elections may result in parties losing recognition even before they demonstrate their electoral performance in elections.