Voters must decide if freebies are good or bad, Election Commission tells Supreme Court

Economic Times, April 09, 2022

Voters must decide if freebies are good or bad and if it adversely affects the economics of a state, the Election Commission of India told the Supreme Court, opposing a suggestion that political parties that offer such freebies be derecognised by the Commission.

The affidavit came on a petition filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay, who had claimed that freebies ahead of elections vitiate the level playing field between parties, most of which offer these from public funds.

Such populist measures play havoc with the economy, Upadhyay had argued.

The bench had sought the EC’s views on this.

In response, the EC said whether to offer freebies or not, and whether to offer it after the elections or before the elections was a policy decision of the political parties.

“…. whether such policies are financially viable or have an adverse effect on the economic health of a state is a question that has to be decided by the voters of the state,” it said.

“The Election Commission of India cannot regulate state policies and decisions which may be taken by the winning party when they form the government. Such an action without enabling provisions in the law would be an overreach of powers.”

The EC pointed out that a Bill had been introduced in the Rajya Sabha providing that if benefits of an already announced scheme had not been transferred to voters six months before the general elections, they should not be transferred till after the elections.

But this had not been passed.

The EC also drew the court’s attention to an earlier ruling in which the top court had held that the Commission can only de-register a political party on certain specified grounds.

That is, if registration was obtained by fraud or forgery, or when a political party changes its terminology, rules and regulations showing that it had lost faith and allegiance to the Indian Constitution or the principles of socialism, secularism, and democracy, or that it will not uphold the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of the country or informs the EC of the same.

The EC can also deregister a political party declared illegal by the central government under the terms of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, or any comparable law.

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