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Apex Court calls for expert panel to curb election freebies

The issue was discussed after a PIL was filed to regulate freebies.

With each passing election, the instances of politicians promising freebies during polls to secure a few extra votes have increased manifolds. While some go unnoticed others choose to blow their trumpet out and loud like in the cases of Delhi, Punjab, Telangana and Kerala. It becomes even more worrisome when those politicians who have counted on this strategy, have reaped its benefits in the past few years, luring more potential campaigners to choose the same path.

The issue had to be addressed sooner or later and courtesy of Ashwini Upadhyay a lawyer by profession, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed requesting to lay down certain laws for regulating freebies.

In response, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and comprising of Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli was constituted, which had the opinion that an expert body consisting of various stakeholders such as Niti Aayog, Finance Commission, Law Commission, Reserve Bank of India and members of ruling and opposition parties would be needed to give suggestions to curb this practice of freebies during election campaigns.

Representing the centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta commented that mindless freebies and populist promises by political parties often lead to “economic disasters”. CJI said that the panel is required to determine the pros and cons of freebies as these have a significant impact on the economy.

While SG Mehta was of the view that “these populist announcements distort the informed decision making of the voter and a voter wouldn’t know what is going to fall on him”, senior advocate Kapil Sibal requested ECI to be kept out of the matter, as it is a political and economic issue and does not just concern elections, and there should be a debate in Parliament on it.

However, the CJI was quick to nullify the argument by Sibal and said no political party would like to do away with freebies. “Do you think there will be a debate in Parliament? These days everyone wants freebies. Not a single political party will allow freebies to be taken away. We take the side of the ordinary people, the downtrodden. Their welfare has to be taken care of. We are looking at the national economic well-being.”

To help the court pass an order for forming this body, CJI instructed the petitioner, Central Government, Election Commission and Sibal to submit their inputs within a week along with their suggestions to regulate this malicious policy of free gifts in the forms of apparent schemes.

Clinging to poll promises various state governments have announced over ₹1 trillion in subsidies and supposed welfare schemes alone this year. A recent SBI report also noted that giving away freebies such as farm loan waivers and restoring old pension systems is a matter of concern.

The Supreme court will now take up the matter for further hearing on August 11, when the Union government will have a clearer stand on the issue.

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