The Supreme Court on Tuesday said a three-judge bench will hear a plea related to the freebies that political parties promise during election campaigns.
A bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) UU Lalit and Justice Bela M Trivedi said that let the file of the case be placed before the next CJI to assign it to a three-judge bench. “Considering the nature of controversy and submissions made by the parties in the earlier hearings, in our view let the matter be listed as early as possible before three judges,” said the apex court.
Earlier, the then CJI, NV Ramana, while saying that the issue of freebies requires extensive debate, referred the case to a three-judge bench.
The apex court while referring the matter to a three-judge bench had said that its 2013 judgment in the Subramaniam Balaji v/s government of Tamil Nadu case on the same issue might need reconsideration.
The top court’s order had come on a batch of pleas against freebies being promised by political parties.
Earlier, the apex court had asked the Centre why it could not call for an all-party meeting to determine issues relating to the promise of freebies during election campaigns.
While acknowledging the “complex nature” of the issue, CJI Ramana had said that the intention of the court was to initiate a wider public debate on the issue, and it is for that purpose the constitution of an expert body was mooted.
It had said that there is a need to draw a distinction between welfare schemes and other promises that are made by political parties before elections.
The top court had said that there is a need for a commission consisting of Niti Aayog, the Finance Commission, ruling and opposition parties, the Reserve Bank of India, and other stakeholders to make suggestions on how to control freebies by political parties.
Political parties like Aam Aadmi Party, Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have sought to intervene in the matter and opposed the plea.
AAP had filed an application stating that electoral promises such as free water, free electricity, and free transport are not ‘freebies’ but these schemes are absolutely essential in an unequal society.
One of the pleas filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay sought direction to seize election symbols and deregister political parties that promised to distribute irrational freebies from public funds.
The plea claimed that political parties arbitrarily promise or irrational freebies for wrongful gain and to lure voters in their favour is analogous to bribery and undue influences.
It claimed that promise or distribution of irrational freebies from public funds before elections could unduly influence the voters, shake the roots of a free and fair election, and disturb the level playing field, besides vitiating the purity of the election process.