The Supreme Court refused to entertain the plea to de-register political parties for promising freebies before elections, but stated that it would examine the issue. The case will be taken up again on August 17.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justice Krishna Murari stated that they did not want to get into the area of de registering political party as it’s an undemocratic arena. “We are a democracy after all,” observed CJI Ramana.
The apex court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking directions to take steps to regulate freebies announced by political parties. The petitioner wanted the Court to issue directions to monitor and regulate manifestos of political parties and make them accountable for promises made.
Highlighting that it is an issue, CJI Ramana remarked that people who are opposing it have a right to do so as they are paying taxes and want the amount to be spent for infrastructure and developmental programmes. “It is a serious issue. So both sides have to be heard by the committee. But making de-registration dependable upon this may not be possible,” added Ramana.
“This is a complex issue and we have to consider data. I have an employee who works and yesterday she had no money to travel by metro. I gave her money and then she told me she takes a free bus. It is free for women. Is it a freebie?” queried Sibal, while pointing out that the issue can only be decided based on data.
Narrating a case of how freebies turn illegalities being legalised, Ramana said, “My father-in-law is an agriculturist and the govt banned electricity connection and they have been waiting. He asked me if I could do something and I told him that this is the policy of law and then it was regularised. I can’t even construct brick in my house because it would violate a sanctioned plan, while my neighbours are constructing floors. What is the message that we’re giving?”
To which Sibal pointed out that while houses of the poor are being demolished, the whole of the unauthorised Sainik Farms in Delhi faces no issue.
Arguing for the Union government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that most of freebies are not part of the manifesto but are declared during rallies and speeches and it would be a difficult task to find out the beneficiaries. Mehta pushed for the court to lay down guidelines till the matter is considered and said that he was for the formation of a committee which would include one representative from each of the Opposition parties and a representative from Niti Aayog.
CJI pointed out that India is also a country where there is poverty and the central government has plans to feed those are hungry. In response, Mehta argued that the way to achieve it could not be the distribution of freebies. “But, freebies and social welfare schemes are different,” added CJI Ramana.
Arguing for Aam Aadmi Party, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi maintained that welfare measures were a political bargain between the electorate and the elected. “We have formulated the universal adult franchise. Judicial reassessment of this issue makes the court enter into a political thicket which courts have refused to do earlier,” said Singhvi, while asking how a committee could be formed when the issue is not judicially manageable.
Ending the arguments, CJI Ramana maintained, “Making a legislation is not very advisable and it will be extending our limit. I don’t want to encroach on the areas meant for the legislature. It’s not an easy thing.” He asked all the concerned parties to submit proposals before his retirement on August 26.