The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre why it was hesitant to take a stand on political parties offering freebies to voters, Live Law reported.

A bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli was hearing a public interest litigation filed by advocate and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, Bar and Bench reported.

In his petition, Upadhyay has sought directions to file criminal cases against political parties for luring voters with freebies.

In April, Upadhyay had sought to de-register such political parties, stating that the promise and distribution of freebies vitiates free and fair elections in the country.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Advocate Amit Sharma, representing the Election Commission of India, referred to an affidavit filed by the poll panel in April stating that offering freebies before or after polls is a political party’s decision. The Election Commission cannot regulate state policies and decisions that the party may have taken after winning polls and forming a government, he added.

Sharma argued that the Centre will be in a better position to address the matter.

But Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for the Central government, said that the matter can be dealt with by the Election Commission only.

The chief justice asked the Centre to take a stand and file a counter affidavit instead, reported Live Law.

“Why don’t you say that you have nothing to do with it and the ECI has to take a call?” Chief Justice Ramana asked Nataraj. “I am asking if the Government of India is considering whether it is a serious issue or not? Why are you hesitating to take a stand? You take a stand and then we will decide whether these freebies are to be continued or not. You file a detailed counter.”

The petitioner deemed the matter as serious and sought directions to the Election Commission to prohibit state and national political parties from giving freebies, reported Live Law.

He also added that the poll panel should impose conditions while recognising a state-based or a national political party. “There should be some reasonable promise,” Upadhyay added.

Ramana then requested senior advocate Kapil Sibal to share his views on the matter.

Sibal submitted that the issue is serious in nature, but it is difficult to control politically.

“When the Finance Commission does allocation to various states, they can take into account the debt of the state and the quantum of freebies,” Sibal said. “The Finance Commission is the appropriate authority to deal with it. Maybe we can invite the commission to look into this aspect. Centre cannot be expected to issues directions.”

The chief justice asked the additional solicitor general to find out whether the Finance Commission could be roped in to suggest on how to prevent distribution of freebies in states, reported Live Law.

“You find out who is the authority where we can initiate a debate or something,” Ramana said. “I’ll list it next week. We directed the Government of India to get instructions in this matter.”

The matter will be heard on August 3.

‘Revdi culture’ is dangerous, says PM Modi

Tuesday’s hearing took place after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 16 accused the Opposition of promising freebies for votes, reported The Indian Express. Terming it the “revdi culture”, Modi said that distributing freebies is dangerous for the country, its development and well-being.

“People of revdi culture feel that by distributing free revdis to people, they can buy them,” he had said. “Together we need to defeat this thinking. Revdi culture needs to be removed from the country’s politics.”

Later in the day, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had countered the prime minister and said that free water, electricity and healthcare are not “revdis”, NDTV reported.

“Today, Gagan, the son of a worker who lost his Rs 15,000-a-month job during the lockdown, has managed to get admission at IIT Dhanbad in computer engineering,” Kejriwal had said. “Ask him if Kejriwal is handing out free revdis or building the future of this country.”

Kejriwal had also said that the Aam Aadmi Party government in the national capital has turned around government hospitals and built mohalla clinics.

“Delhi is the only megacity in the world where each of the two crore people can get free treatment,” he added. “This includes surgeries that go up to Rs 30 or 40 or 50 lakh. Despite making so many things free, Delhi has a budget surplus. What’s wrong in ending corruption and using that money to help the public?”