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Parties must not promise freebies in manifestos, says Supreme court

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Within hours of the Supreme Court observing that parties should not promise freebies in their election manifestos to lure voters as such practices “shake the roots of free and fair polls,” political outfits were up in arms and ready to challenge the order.

Though the Election Commission will start holding consultations with the parties to frame guidelines on the manifestos, political parties, particularly the Congress, are of the view that such a direction will not have any legal standing.

They argue that it is the prerogative of a government to decide what “social welfare measure” should be taken in a particular State or for a particular group of citizens.

All political parties have offered freebies in their manifestos and distributed them when elected to power.

Such freebies ranged from rice at Re 1-Rs 3/kg and laptops to students to bicycles to school-going girls.

The Supreme Court’s order, on a petition filed by advocate S. Subramaniam Balaji challenging the Tamil Nadu Government’s decision to distribute freebies, said that election manifestos released by parties can be included in the Model Code of Conduct.

“Although the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of People’s (RP) Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree,” a Bench comprising Justices P. Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said.

Prerogative of Govt

Maintaining that it was yet to go through the details of the order, the Congress said the Election Commission’s well-laid-out code of conduct has given a direction on the issue.

“It’s the prerogative of a government to engage in social welfare schemes considering the ground realities. It could be in the form of a cycle or in the form of a laptop.

“The Election Commission can intervene when an elected government announces or distributes such things after the announcement of an election,” Congress spokesperson, P. C. Chacko said.

BJP HAILS VERDICT

The Bharatiya Janata Party welcomed the direction. “The Supreme Court has asked the Election Commission to frame the guidelines on freebies. We welcome it.

If this helps in cleaning and reforming the election process, we welcome it. It remains to be seen how the EC processes this direction,” party spokesperson Nirmala Sitaraman said.

A senior official in the Election Commission said the panel will soon hold consultations with the political parties and frame guidelines on the matter “at the earliest.”

jigeesh.am@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 5, 2013)
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