‘Why not call an all-party meeting to hear freebies’ issue,’ SC asks Centre

In yet another hearing, the on Wednesday was packed with lawyers and judges to discuss what can be done to regulate the promise of freebies. Turning to the Centre, the court asked why it cannot call an all-party meeting to resolve the issue.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta replied that such a meeting would be counter-productive now as various (Congress, AAP, and DMK) have already approached the court. They have done so to oppose regulating the distribution of freebies.

“There are some who think it is their fundamental right to offer freebies and have come to power by only offering freebies,” he said.

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, while hearing this, said that an expert committee may not be a one-stop solution to iron out the wrinkles.

“The biggest problem is who will head the committee? Ultimately, it is the that make promises and contest elections, not individuals. Things like freebies, which can destroy the economy, have to be looked into. So, there needs to be a debate,” he said.

A three-judge Bench, led by Justice DY Chandrachud, is likely to hear this matter from now on.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, suggested that a retired judge of the be made chairman of the expert committee proposed by the court to examine the issue.

CJI Ramana, in a lighter vein, said, “A person who has retired or is going to retire has no value in this country.”

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), suggested three things to define freebies. He said freebies that go against Fundamental Rights are illegal, freebies that violate public policy are illegal and pre-poll freebies six months before elections are illegal. “It is like bribing the voters,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior advocate Kapil Sibal pointed out that there was one fundamental problem with the suggestion of political parties disclosing how they are going to pay for their promises.

He said political parties don’t have access to the financial records of a state before getting elected. He suggested that the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act 2003 should be implemented and if the deficit exceeded 3 per cent, the Finance Commission could look into it.

He said the budget allocation to the state found guilty of exceeding the deficit could be reduced from next year.

The solicitor-general said some political parties were rolling out promises to influence the voters. “People can be lured. Can you promise the moon to get elected?” he asked.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for AAP, took objection to this statement.

He said, “Not everyone can fool the public all the time. We had universal adult suffrage even in 1947 when our literacy rate was around 12 per cent. It is wrong to think that our voters are gullible,” he said.

On the other hand, senior advocate Arvind P Datar, who had appeared in the Subramaniam Balaji vs. State of Tamil Nadu case, submitted that this 2013 decision required reconsideration. It is because the case had set an “erroneous precedent” that an offer made in an election manifesto cannot be a corrupt practice.

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