New Delhi, January 25
Terming irrational poll-eve freebies as a “serious issue”, the Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre and the Election Commission on a PIL seeking measures to keep a check on such promises using public funds.
Also read: Meeting poll promises a tall order in Punjab
Petitioner cites Punjab freebies
- Rs 30,000 cr per month will be needed by Punjab to fulfil poll promises, if Congress wins
- Rs 25,000 cr per month, if SAD emerges winner
- Rs 12,000 cr a month, if AAP comes to power
A Bench led by CJI NV Ramana asked the Centre and the EC to respond in four weeks to the PIL filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking a direction to the commission to seize election symbols and deregister political parties that promised to distribute irrational freebies to voters using public funds. It said political parties should also be made parties to the PIL.
“We want to know how to control this. It’s a serious issue no doubt. The freebie budget is going beyond the regular budget and sometimes… Even though it’s not a corrupt practice, but it creates an uneven playing field,” the CJI said.
Holding that freebies promised in poll manifestos vitiated the electoral process, the top court had on July 5, 2013, asked the EC to frame guidelines to check it in consultation with political parties.
On Tuesday, the CJI lamented that the EC has held only one meeting with political parties on the issue after the top court’s order.
“The EC framed guidelines without any teeth. Every party is doing it. Who will pay the money? Look at Punjab,” senior counsel Vikas Singh submitted on behalf of the petitioner, a Delhi BJP leader.
“Why are you naming one particular state?” CJI Ramana said. Such promises by the political parties violated Articles 14, 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution and amounted to bribery and undue influence under Section 171B and Section 171C of the IPC, he said.
“The injury to the citizens is extremely large because Punjab needs Rs 12,000 crore per month to fulfil the political promises if AAP comes to power, Rs 25,000 crore per month if SAD comes to power and Rs 30,000 crore (per month) if Congress comes to power, though GST collection is Rs 1,400 crore only,” Upadhyay submitted.
“In fact, after debt repayment, the Punjab Government is not able to pay even salaries and pensions. Then, how will it provide freebies? The bitter truth is that Punjab’s debt is increasing every subsequent year. The state’s outstanding debt has increased to Rs 77,000 crore, with Rs 30,000 crore accumulating in the present financial year itself,” the PIL pointed out.
In UP, Congress promised a smartphone to every girl studying in Class XII, a scooty to every girl pursuing graduation, free public transport for women, eight free gas cylinders per year to every housewife, free medical treatment up to Rs 10 lakh per family to voters, the petitioner submitted.
“Political parties are prioritising their self-interest over national interest and the public fund, which should have been properly utilised to secure fundamental rights of citizens, is being used to lure voters,” Upadhyay said.
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