Not against government policy or scheme: SC on plea against freebie promises by parties

Supreme Court of India.
Supreme Court of India. File/ GK

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it is not against any government policy or scheme, and it started examining the issue of freebies for both welfare of the people and the economy, and now a debate has to take place.

The top court also pulled Tamil Nadu’s ruling DMK and some of its leaders for making statements on the issue of freebies and the judicial intervention in the matter.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana, said the court’s intention was to initiate a wider public debate on the issue of freebies and it was suggested that an expert panel should be formed to examine the issue.

The bench, also comprising Justices Hima Kohli and C.T. Ravikumar said: “We are not against any government policy. We are not against any scheme...”

The bench further added that all political parties are on one side, as everybody wants freebies and due to this reason, it attempted to examine the issue.

The Chief Justice added that if tomorrow, the government of India makes a law against freebies, could it be said that the government can say whatever and the court cannot look into it? He added that the court started examining the issue in the interest of both welfare of people and the economy, and now a debate should take place and a committee should be formed.

Acknowledging the complex nature of the issue - what is the difference between freebies and welfare, CJI Ramana added that for example, some state gives cycles to poor and the women, and this improves their lifestyle, but the problem is what is a freebie and what is a welfare scheme for the upliftment of a person.

He added that for a poverty-stricken person in a rural area, his livelihood may depend on a small boat or bicycle, and it is also difficult to sit here and argue on this issue.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal argued that this issue needs to be dealt with through a system and not politically, and suggested the Finance Commission should be looped in the process.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that nobody had an issue with social welfare, but the difficulty arises when a party distributed non-essentials such as sarees, television sets etc. Mehta said the voter has a right to make an informed choice and false promises which the finances do not permit would entail disastrous economic consequences.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing petitioner advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, clarified that his case was limited to promises made by parties during elections, and added that parties were hijacking the issue by calling it social welfare, but “in reality, it is fiscal discipline issue, which if not dealt with, would make India a Sri Lanka”.

The top court also pulled DMK and some of its leaders for making statements on the issue of freebies and the judicial intervention in the matter.

As senior advocate P. Wilson, representing the DMK, sought to make submissions in the case, the Chief Justice told him: “Mr. Wilson, the party you represent, I have a lot of things to say but I am restraining myselfa being the Chief Justice of India. Don’t think you are the only wise party. The way you are talking, giving statements... Don’t think we are ignoring all that is being said.”

The DMK has filed an impleading petition filed in the top court saying that welfare measures intended to uplift the marginalised persons cannot be termed as “freebies”.

The top court is hearing a plea by Upadhyay seeking directions to the Centre and the Election Commission to take steps to regulate poll manifestos of political parties and also against irrational freebies promised by political parties to induce voters during polls.

The top court is likely to continue hearing the matter on Wednesday.

In the previous hearing, the top court had suggested constituting an expert panel comprising representatives from the Central and state governments, opposition political parties, Election Commission, Finance Commission, Reserve Bank of India, NITI Aayog etc.

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