Political parties offering freebies to voters will have an adverse impact on the Indian economy, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Bar and Bench reported. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the government, said that populist announcements distort the informed decision-making of a voter.
“They [voters] don’t know what’s going to fall on them,” Mehta told a bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, The Indian Express reported. “This is how we head towards economic disasters.”
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by advocate and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking directions to file criminal cases against political parties for luring voters with freebies.
Upadhyay contended that such promises and distribution of freebies vitiate free and fair elections in the country. Freebies could amount to “bribery and undue influence” as stated under the Indian Penal Code Sections 171(B) and 171(C), Upadhyay argued in the plea.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Chief Justice Ramana remarked that no political party would be willing to debate on the matter as all of them want to offer freebies during elections.
“Every political party benefits from the freebies and I don’t want to name one,” the chief justice remarked orally, according to Live Law.
Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Upadhyay, suggested that the Election Commission of India should frame a model manifesto which would allow political parties to make promises only by disclosing the source from where the money would be paid for.
Ramana, however, said that such model manifestos are empty formalities only. He also asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was present in the court, to offer suggestions.
Sibal said that a blanket order cannot be passed, as some promises made by political parties are genuine welfare measures meant for the vulnerable sections. He also said that the Election Commission should be kept away from the matter.
“This is an economic and political issue,” Sibal told the judges, according to Bar and Bench. “Do not refer it to the Election Commission.”
The bench then suggested that an expert body consisting of various stakeholders such as the government, the Niti Aayog, the Finance Commission, the Law Commission, the Reserve Bank of India, and members of the Opposition should be formed to give their suggestions on the issue of freebies.
The court asked the petitioner and the respondent in the case to submit their suggestions on the formation of such an expert body within a week.
The case will be heard next on August 8.