‘Which Political Party Will Debate Freebies?’ SC’s Top Quotes as it Hears PIL on Regulating Election Sops

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On a suggestion that the PIL seeking to regulate political freebies should be debated in Parliament, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said no political party will ever oppose freebies and none will debate the issue. Chief of Justice of India NV Ramana, heading a bench hearing a PIL seeking to regulate political freebies, orally responded to senior advocate Kapil Sibal’s suggestion that the matter should be debated.

The top court also suggested the formation of a mechanism or an expert body to give suggestions on resolving the issue of sops doled out by political parties ahead of and during elections.

A lawyer, Ashwini Upadhyay, has filed a PIL seeking to regulate such “freebies”. An SC bench, also comprising Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, directed the petitioner, central government and the Election Commission of India to give their suggestions on the formation of such an expert panel.

In a fresh stand, the BJP-led Centre also came out in support of the PIL against the practice. It told the SC that such freebies spelt economic disaster in future. The Centre, through solicitor general Tushar Mehta, said, “The freebies distribution inevitably leads to future economic disaster and the voters also cannot exercise their right to choose as an informed, wise decision.”

This is significant as the government had earlier said the matter should be dealt with by the EC. But, the poll panel put the onus on the government during a hearing on the issue on July 26.

The apex court has now asked all stakeholders, including the Centre, Niti Aayog, Finance Commission, Reserve Bank of India among others to brainstorm the issue and come out with constructive suggestions to deal with it.

Here are all the top quotes delivered by the SC bench on the matter:

  1. On debate over freebies: Chief Justice Ramana said no political party will be ready to debate the issue of regulating freebies. Responding to senior advocate Kapil Sibal on his suggestion that the matter should be debated in Parliament, CJI Ramana said: “”Mr.Sibal, do you think there will be a debate in the Parliament? Which political party would debate? No political party would oppose freebies. These days everyone wants freebies.” Sibal was not representing any party in the matter but had been invited by the SC bench to give his inputs.
  2. On implementation of model code of conduct: The solicitor general suggested the poll panel may be asked to reconsider its stand on looking into the matter. The bench, on being told about the issue of implementation of the model code for elections, said, “These are all empty formalities. When does the model code of conduct come into play? Just before the elections. All the four years you will do something and then at the end you will include a model code of conduct…” Earlier, too, the bench had termed as “serious” the promise of “irrational freebies”.
  3. On stakeholders brainstorming the matter: Posting the matter for further hearing on Thursday, the SC said all stakeholders should consider it and give suggestions to deal with the “serious” matter. It said the Centre, Finance Commission, Law Commission, RBI as well as members of the ruling party and opposition should be invited to make suggestions, and that an expert panel should be formed. “We are of the considered opinion that all the stakeholder, beneficiaries… and the government and organisations like Niti Aayog, Finance Commission, RBI and the opposition parties have to be involved in the process of brainstorming and giving some constructive suggestions on these issues. We direct all the parties to make suggestions about the composition of such a body to enable us to pass an order for constitution of the body so that they can make suggestions,” the bench said in its order.
  4. On passing guidelines: The top court also said it will not be passing any guideline on the matter of freebies without taking the views of all stakeholders into account. CJI Ramana said, “We’re not going to pass guidelines. It’s a matter of importance where suggestions need to be taken by various stakeholders. Ultimately the Election Commission of India and central government are required to take steps on the implementation. All these groups can debate and then they can submit a report to the ECI and CG.”
  5. On poll panel’s role: On July 26, the SC had asked the Centre to clear its stand on the matter of freebies after the government said the election commission should look into ways of dealing with it. Even as the EC put the onus back on the Centre, the SC said, “The Election Commission and the government cannot say that we cannot do anything about this. They have to consider the issue and give suggestions.” Even while supporting the PIL, Mehta once again said the poll panel must prevent the freebie culture not only to protect democracy but also to safeguard the economic sustenance of the country. The counsel for the poll panel, however, said the apex court judgements bind it and hence it cannot act on the issue of freebies. But the government’s law officer opposed the suggestion by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who has been asked by the bench to assist it during the hearing, that the poll panel be kept out of this exercise.

On January 25, the SC had sought replies from the Centre and the EC on the PIL seeking direction to seize the symbol or deregister a political party that promises or distributes “irrational freebies” before polls, saying it is a “serious issue” as sometimes freebie budget is going beyond regular budget.

The plea, which was filed ahead of the assembly polls in five states including Punjab, said there should be a total ban on such populist measures to gain undue political favour from voters as they violate the Constitution, and the EC should take suitable deterrent measures.

(With PTI inputs)

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