Can't regulate parties' freebies promises: EC tells Supreme Court
- EC said it cannot regulate decisions which may be taken by the winning party
- Supreme Court had raised concerns over political parties offering free gifts to voters
- Decisions to offer freebies fell within the policy domain of the political partym , the EC said.
The election commission has told the Supreme Court that any action to regulate promises by political parties to give out freebies if elected to power would be an overreach unless legal provisions are imposed.
Responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay seeking de-registration of political parties announcing freebies, the EC said "The EC 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".
It added that the decisions to offer or distribute freebies, either before or after elections, fell within the policy domain of the political party.
The court can make guidelines for the parties, Election commission cannot enforce them, the poll panel said.
“Whether such policies are financially viable or have an adverse effect on the economic health of the state is a question that has to be decided by the voters of the state,” the Election Commission said.
In January, the apex court issued a notice to the centre and the Election Commission and sought a response to the plea in four weeks.
The Supreme Court had raised concerns over political parties offering free gifts to voters. The court said the "freebie budget" is going beyond the regular budget, calling it a "serious issue".
The petition has asked for directions to the Election Commission to seize election symbols and deregister political parties that promised freebies from public funds.
"Money of the citizens is being misused despite the Election Commission rules," it has said.
The announcement of freebies by political parties affects the purity of elections, disturbs the level playing field and shakes the roots of a free and fair election, the petition has said. It added that the recent trend of offering freebies around elections is "not only the greatest threat to the survival of democratic values but also injures the spirit of the Constitution".
The EC referred to the 2013 SC judgment in S Subramaniam Balaji where the court had dealt with the issue of freebies announced by political parties. The SC had said that promises made in the election manifesto cannot be construed as corrupt practice under Section 1232 of the RP Act to mandate EC to take action against the political party.
The poll panel said that petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay's plea could not be implemented as the court had also determined three grounds on which the registration of a political party could be cancelled and that announcement of freebies did not form part of three grounds.