The Supreme Court on Wednesday queried the Central government, why it can't form a committee to examine the impact of freebies promised by political parties to induce voters, and also the government can call for an all-party meeting to examine the issue.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana told the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, "Why can't the Government of India constitute a committee to study the impact of freebies..." Mehta replied that the Centre will help in every way and statistics connected with the issue and other information can be placed before the top court.
Mehta said a line should be drawn, where somebody should tell "please do not do this". The Chief Justice replied the question is who will head the committee. Justice Ramana said if he were to contest the election, he may not get even 10 votes as political parties matter more and not the individuals.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing the petitioner, submitted that a retired judge of the apex court, like Justice R.M. Lodha, should be the chairman of the committee to examine freebies issues. The Chief Justice replied, "The person who retires or is going to retire has no value in this country." Singh said it is the personality of the person concerned which impacts.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, representing the Election Commission of India, questioned the definition of freebie and said if something is there in the manifesto, can it be called a freebie? Datar said there is enough material available to judge the economic impact of freebies.
The bench, also comprising Justices Hima Kohli and C.T. Ravikumar, noted, freebies, etc., can destroy the economy. It has to be looked at and the court just cannot pass a mandamus.
The Chief Justice said, "The Government of India can call for an all-party meeting".
Pointing at political parties seeking to intervene in the matter in court, Mehta said parties claim fundamental rights, and what will the government do. AAP, seeking to intervene in the matter, claimed that it had the fundamental right to free speech under Article 19 of the Constitution, which included the election speeches and promises for upliftment of the downtrodden
Singh submitted that the apex court's 2013 judgment in Subramanian Balaji vs. Government of Tamil Nadu needs to be reconsidered. In this judgment, the apex court had held that the promises made by political parties in the election manifesto would not amount to 'corrupt practices' as per Section 123 of the Representation of People Act.
After hearing detailed arguments, the top court adjourned the matter.
The top court was hearing a PIL by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking directions to the Centre and the Election Commission of India to take steps to regulate poll manifestos of political parties and also opposed the practice of political parties giving or promising freebies to induce voters during polls.
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 of India, Finance Commission, Reserve Bank of India, NITI Aayog, etc.