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Plea against pre-poll freebies promise: HC seeks govt, EC reply

PTI | New Delhi |

The Delhi High Court on Thursday sought responses of the Centre and the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a petition seeking to restrain all political parties from making promises of offering freebies to people if they are voted to power.

A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal asked the ECI to explain if its guidelines on election manifesto are in conformity with the Supreme Court's direction given earlier.

"You (ECI) will have to file your response and inform this court whether the guidelines issued by you are in conformity with the directions given by the Supreme Court," the bench said.

The court also issued notice to the Centre and asked both the government and ECI to file their response within eight weeks.

The bench has fixed the matter for hearing on May 24.

The high court was hearing a plea by Delhi resident Ashok Sharma who has sought direction to the ECI to restrain all political parties from distributing free goods (freebies) as are being allegedly offered in the upcoming state Assembly elections in the five states, scheduled to be held in February and March.

Assembly polls are to be held in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.

The plea, filed through advocate A Maitri, has claimed that the poll panel in its recent guidelines has "nullified" the Supreme Court's directions, which had directed the ECI to frame guidelines in consultation with all recognised parties.

The apex court in its July 2013 verdict had observed that, "although the law is obvious that promises made in an election manifesto cannot be construed as a 'corrupt practice' under section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, the reality is that distribution of freebies of any kind undoubtedly influences all people and it affects level-playing field."