Free ‘undemocratic’, but legislation on them not advisable, says SC

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on Thursday that legislation to ban political parties from offering gifts to voters is not advisable, but such promises are “undemocratic”. The top court also expressed displeasure with the Election Commission’s affidavit in the matter which was leaked to some media outlets.

The court noted that the economy is losing money, but the welfare of the people has to be balanced. “That’s why this debate is needed and there has to be someone who reflects on this vision,” he said.

While hearing a petition, the Supreme Court a week ago suggested setting up an expert committee “to take a holistic and comprehensive view of the matter and make its recommendations”. However, the Electoral Commission refused to be part of any committee because of its “status as a constitutional body”.

The court stated that it will not look into the plea of ​​the petition that political parties should not advertise gifts. “This is [freebies] something undemocratic. After all, we are a democracy”, he said.

The court has expressed its displeasure that the content of the Electoral Commission’s affidavit has been made public. “We have to read affidavits in the newspapers,” he said.

The Commission’s counsel cited a recent Supreme Court judgment and stated that the Representation of the People Act could be amended to compel political parties to pledge in their manifestos that they will not offer gifts during elections.

Tushar Mehta, the government’s attorney general, argued that it would be a challenge to implement this clause because most gifts are announced during rallies and speeches rather than in party manifestos.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, who appeared for the petitioner, stated that several stakeholders have raised the issue in the courts that gifts are part of the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) enshrined in the Constitution. “However, donating gold chains cannot be part of DPSP implementation,” he said.

Gifts and social programs are different, said senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented the Aam Aadmi Party, which currently controls Delhi. The term “free” is used incorrectly, he added.

Responding to Singhvi’s argument, Mehta said that elections are essentially fought on the promise of freebies. “If gifts are considered to be for the welfare of the people, it will lead to disaster,” he said.

Mehta said it will be difficult to find beneficiaries of gifts who can be members of the committee that the court has suggested to be set up. However, he suggested representatives from political parties, the NITI Aayog, the civil service, the central bank and other sectors.

Kapil Sibal, senior advocate and politician, whose opinion was sought by the court on the matter, said the impact of the regulation of royalty will be felt in other sectors like agriculture which need to be taken into account.

The court has scheduled the next hearing on the matter on August 17, 2022.



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