'Political parties shouldn't promise freebies'

The Supreme Court yesterday asked the poll panel to frame guidelines to discourage political parties from promising freebies in their election manifestos as it shakes the root of free and fair elections and disturbs level playing field for the candidates.

Freebies: Students receive free laptops from UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav during an event on June 3, 2013 in Ghaziabad. File pic

A bench of Justice P. Satsasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that such guidelines would be necessary for holding free and fair elections and maintaining a level playing field. The court said that the freebies can influence people and disturb the level playing field.

Stating that it had limited powers to issue directions to the legislature to legislate on a particular issue, the court favoured a separate law governing political parties.

“We also record the need for a separate legislation to be passed by the legislature in this regard for governing the political parties in our democratic society,” the court said.

“Although, the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of RP (Representation of People) 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,” said Justice Sathasivam.

Referring to the Election Commission’s (EC) submission that the “promise of such freebies at government cost disturbs the level playing field and vitiates the electoral process” and expressing willingness to “implement any directions or decision” of the court, the court noted that there was no enactment that directly governed the contents of the election manifesto.

“We hereby direct the Election Commission to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with all the recognized political parties as when it had acted while framing guidelines for general conduct of the candidates, meetings, processions, polling day, party in power etc.”

In the similar way, the court said 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 & Candidates”.

The court also said that it was not oblivious of the fact that “generally political parties release their election manifesto before the announcement of election date, in that scenario, strictly speaking, the EC 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”, it said, dismissing a petition by S Subramaniam Balaji who challenged the DMK’s 2006 election manifesto promise to distribute free colour TVs to households.

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