Regulate freebies vowed by parties: SC to poll panel

Court says bring manifestoes under code

Regulate freebies vowed by parties: SC to poll panel

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines to regulate content of election manifestoes in a bid to prevent political parties from misusing populist schemes to woo voters.

The apex court direction comes months before four states – Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – go to the polls. The Lok Sabha elections are scheduled for 2014. Agreeing that offering freebies does not amount to corrupt practice per se, the Supreme Court said the election manifestoes can be brought under 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 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,” justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said.

The directions came on a petition filed by advocate S Subramaniam Balaji before the apex court challenging two regional parties from Tamil Nadu offering  freebies to lure voters since the last few years. While the DMK in 2006 offered colour TV to the people, the AIADMK offered grinder,  electric fan and laptop in 2011.

The bench also said: "Considering that there is no enactment that directly governs the contents of the election manifesto, we hereby direct the Election Commission to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with political parties."

The justices emphasised that "a separate head for guidelines for election manifesto released by a political party can also be included in the model code of conduct for the guidance of political parties and candidates."

The Supreme Court said despite the parties coming out with their election manifestos before the code of conduct comes into force, the Election Commission can still make an exception to enforce the ban.

The governments are barred from announcing any populist scheme unless the commission gives a go ahead, when code of conduct is announced.

"We are mindful of the fact that generally political parties release their election manifestos before the announcement of the election date. In that scenario, strictly speaking, the Election Commission will not have the authority to regulate any act which is done before the announcement of the date. Nevertheless, an exception can be made in this regard as the purpose of election manifesto is directly associated with the election process," the bench said.

Various political parties come up with competitive populist schemes to lure voters. The Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh had promised laptops to students if they came to power.

In Bihar, the JD-U had promised cycles to school girls. Financial analysts have argued that the freebies announced by politicians burden the exchequers, while political parties claimed that it was part of the concept of a “welfare state.” 

Apex court diktat

* Decision comes months before Delhi, Rajasthan, MP and C’garh go to polls
* In TN, DMK offered colour TV and AIADMK grinder, fan, laptop
* SP in UP offered laptops to students
* JD-U in Bihar offered cycles for school girls

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