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

The court asked the ECI to explain if its guidelines on election manifesto are in conformity with Supreme Court's direction given earlier.

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.”

During the hearing, the counsel appearing for the petitioner told the Bench that “the Supreme Court directions were specific that promise of such nature made by political parties influences people and it can vitiate the fair election process.”

When the Bench asked ECI’s counsel if the guidelines issued by the poll panel were in conformity with apex court’s directions, the lawyer said, “If it was not then there would have been contempt against the ECI”.

The Bench, however, asked ECI counsel that they would have to file a response to the plea as it was seeking implementation of the apex court’s directions.

When the Bench asked the ECI to file the reply within four weeks, the counsel said, “We (ECI) are in midst of elections so give us some more time to file response”.

The Bench agreed to the submission and asked the ECI and the Centre to file their replies within eight weeks.

The petition has alleged that the ECI has not taken necessary steps to stop political parties, in the upcoming Assembly elections in the five states, from distributing freebies at the expense of the government exchequer.

Alleging that the ECI has “no desire” to comply with the apex court’s verdict, the plea has also sought “quashing/modifying of ECI’s recent guidelines on election manifesto as the same is in contravention of directions under Article 142 of the Constitution of India”.

The plea has alleged that promise and distribution of freebies amounts to “corrupt practise” and nowadays all political parties are adopting these types of tactics for winning elections.

It has claimed that the political parties are utilising public money for their political benefits, which vitiates free and fair elections.

It has said that the government raises funds through taxation and money can be used by the state only in discharge of public duties.

( Source : PTI )
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