The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned why the Centre could not call for an all-party meeting to discuss the matter of announcing social welfare schemes in election campaigns, Live Law reported.

The court is hearing a public interest litigation filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Upadhyay, seeking directions to the Election Commission to not allow political parties to promise such schemes.

Upadhyay and several BJP leaders have described these schemes as freebies.

At a previous hearing, the Supreme Court had suggested that an expert body comprising various stakeholders such as the government, the NITI Aayog, the Finance Commission, the Law Commission, the Election Commission, the Reserve Bank of India, and members of the Opposition should be formed to give their suggestions on the matter.

On Wednesday, Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Upadhyay, recommended that a retired judge of the Supreme Court should be made chairperson of the expert committee, reported Live Law.

Meanwhile, Advocate Kapil Sibal expressed reservations about the proposal that political parties should disclose the source of their funds before making promises in their election manifesto.

In response, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said that there are political parties that are not in power in the state and yet promise freebies to influence the voters, Live Law reported.

“For example, someone says – for all of you I will not charge electricity,” Mehta argued. “People can be lured. I don’t even know from where the money will come...Would the voter have an atmosphere where he can take informed decision? Can you promise the moon to get elected?”

Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Aam Aadmi Party, took objection to this and said that voters cannot be fooled every time

“We had universal adult suffrage even in 1947 when our literacy rate was around 12%,” he said. “It is wrong to think that our voters are gullible.”

The chief justice then asked Mehta why the Centre does not call for an all-party meeting to discuss the matter.

To this, Mehta replied: “There are some political parties who think it is their fundamental right to offer freebies and have come to power by only offering freebies.”

Chief Justice Ramana reiterated that there should be a debate on this.

“Biggest problem is, who will head the [expert] committee?” he asked. “Ultimately it is the political parties which make promises and contest elections, not individuals. Who is in Opposition today, can come in power tomorrow and so they will come and have to manage this. So things like freebies, etc., which can destroy the economy has to be looked at and I just cannot pass a mandamus.”

Also read:

  1. Freebies and social welfare schemes are different, says Chief Justice NV Ramana
  2. All political parties are in support of ‘freebies’, says CJI NV Ramana