The Supreme Court on Friday referred the freebies case to a three-judge bench while saying that the issue of freebies promised by the political parties during election campaigns requires extensive debate.
A bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justices Hima Kohli, and CT Ravikumar said looking at the “complexity” of the freebies issues, the case is referred to a three-judge bench. The apex court while referring the matter to a three-judge bench said that its 2013 judgment in the Subramaniam Balaji v/s government of Tamil Nadu case on the same issue might need reconsideration.
“The issues raised by parties require an extensive hearing. Certain preliminary hearings need to be determined, such as what is the scope of judicial intervention, whether the appointment of an expert body by the court serves any purpose, etc.
Many parties also submitted that judgment in the Subramaniam Balaji case requires reconsideration. The Court in the said case held such practices would not amount to corrupt practices. Looking at the complexity of issues and the prayer to overrule Subramaniam Balaji case, we refer the matters to a three-judge bench,” the bench stated in its order.
The top court’s order came on a batch of pleas against freebies promised by political parties.
Earlier, the top court had asked the Centre why it cannot 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.
During the previous hearing, the apex court said that the issue concerning freebies is complex and there is a need to draw a distinction between welfare schemes and other promises that are made by political parties before elections.
It had said that there is a need for a commission consisting of Niti Aayog, the Finance Commission, ruling and opposition parties, Reserve Bank of India, and other stakeholders to make suggestions on how to control freebies by political parties.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, assisting the apex court on the issue, had said that a “non-political body” like Finance Commission may look into the issue and make recommendations.
CJI had also said that it cannot prevent political parties from making promises during the election campaigns but the question is what constitutes the right promises and what is the right way of spending public money.
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 irrational freebies for wrongful gain and to lure voters in their favor 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.