SC tells poll panel to act against election-time freebies

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New Delhi, July 5: The Supreme Court today asked the Election Commission to frame guidelines to restrain political parties from promising freebies to voters in their election manifestos. The 20 kg rice scheme in Tamil Nadu is one such election promise made good by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, recently.

"We direct election commission to take up the task (of framing guidelines) immediately," the court said today. The apex court also said that separate legislation should be made on this issue.

But, with slew of elections this year and next year, will the Election Commission or the government take the bull by the horn?

It is a competitive offer, panel had said

However, we should give due credit to the Election Commission as it had taken dim view of such practices way back in 2006, but nothing further was done. The then Chief Election Commissioner B B Tandon had strongly criticised both the major alliances of Tamil Nadu for having indulged in a "competitive offer of freebies" to voters.

"What happened in Tamil Nadu during the recent assembly elections (2006) was a competitive offer of freebies from both sides, which cannot be justified at all. It was totally against political propriety," Tandon had said.

"Your political intentions of offerings for the development of a state should be mentioned in your manifesto, which could also include some of the sops or freebies. But in Tamil Nadu the announcement of the freebies after the manifestoes had been released was beyond justification," Tandon had said in an interview given to BBC.

Asked why the Election Commission did not intervene and pull up the political parties responsible for this, Tandon had said: "It is the duty of political parties to follow the political code in a democracy. They should behave responsibly during elections. I think it would not be right for the Election Commission to take harsh measures every time or to suggest framing of new and tough laws."

In a democracy, lure of goodies is used by political parties of all hues, before elections and during elections. The Food Security Bill is one of them.

Free rice is a favourite promises of the political parties, particularly in South India.

Regulate election manifesto, says SC

Meanwhile today, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice P. Satsasivam (who will be next Chief Justice of India) said that guidelines on freebies to voters would be necessary for maintaining a level playing field during the elections. The court said that the freebies can influence the people and disturb the level playing field.

"There is no guideline for regulating the contents of election manifesto. We direct the Election Commission to frame guidelines on it," the bench said.

The court's remarks came while dismissing a petition which had sought the promise of free colour TVs by a political party in Tamil Nadu to be declared a corrupt practice. he petition was filed by an advocate S Subramaniam Balaji, challenging the state's decision to distribute freebies.

According to the petitioner, competitive populism resorted to by political parties was unconstitutional and a huge drain on the state exchequer.

The petitioner had contended that freebies offered by the Tamil Nadu government amounted to bribing the voters and ran counter to the constitutional mandate of free and fair elections.

The court said that the promises of giving freebies, including televisions and laptops was not a corrupt practice under Section 123 of the Representation of Peoples Act.

OneIndia News
(with agencies inputs)

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