New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that political parties cannot be stopped from making promises to the electorate in election manifestos or in the course of electioneering like promising better remunerative prices to farmers for their produce, free drinking water, minimum units of free power, etc but said that its concern was the right way to use public money.
Chief Justice N.V. Ramana heading a bench also comprising Justice J.K. Maheshwari and Justice Hima Kohli observed that the issue has become increasingly complicated and a distinction has to be made between what constitutes a freebie and what does not. In a poser as to ‘what constituted a freebie, the Chief Justice Ramana said, “We cannot prevent political parties from making promises. The question is what constitutes right promises. Can we describe the promise of better remunerative prices to farmers as a freebie. Can the promise of free education, drinking water, minimum units of powers etc. be described as freebies? Can promise of offering free consumer products and electronics devices be described as welfare?”
“The concern right now is what is the right way of spending public money. Some people say money is wasted; some say it is welfare. The issues are getting increasingly complicated. You give your opinions, ultimately, after debate and discussion, we will decide,” Chief Justice Ramana said, asking all the parties to submit their suggestions by Saturday evening (August 20) and posted the matter for hearing to August 22.
In this context welfare schemes, the court cited the example of schemes such as MNREGA, which gave citizens “dignity of living”.
In an aside apparently suggesting that at times the promise of freebies does not catapult a party to power, CJI Ramana said that even after making promises to the electorate, some parties were still not elected.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking direction to the Election Commission to seize the election symbols and deregister political parties that promise to distribute irrational freebies using public funds.
Political parties like Aam Aadmi Party, Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have sought to intervene in the matter and have opposed the plea.
Senior advocate P. Wilson, appearing for DMK, contended that the petitioner is trying to convert India from a “socialist country to a capitalist country”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said, “If our understanding of social welfare is to distribute everything for free, then I am sorry to say but that is an immature understanding.”...