Freebie culture elevated to level of art for fighting polls: Centre to SC
New Delhi: The “freebie culture” has been elevated to the level of “art” for fighting elections and will lead to “disaster” if some political parties understand this is the only way to deliver public welfare measures, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday.
In a response to the August 3 order, the Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, said till the time either the legislature or the poll panel steps in, the top court must lay down “dos and don’ts” for political parties in the “larger national interest.”
The government submitted its recommendations to the bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana on setting up an expert panel to go into the issue of populist promises of freebies made by political parties during polls.
Mehta said, “Distribution of freebies has been elevated to the level of an art by some parties recently. Elections are fought only on this plank. It is unfortunate that in the country’s election spectrum some parties understand that distribution of free things is the only way of ‘welfare measures’ for the society. This understanding is completely unscientific and will lead to an economic disaster.”
The government suggested the Union Finance Secretary, Finance Secretaries of states, one representative each from recognised National Political Parties, Chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, a representative of Reserve Bank of India, the CEO of NITI Aayog can be made part of the proposed panel.
It also said a representative from a national taxpayers’ organisation or a retired Comptroller and Auditor General of India may be included in the proposed panel to represent those opposed to such freebies.
“Representative from the leading commercial organisations – Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry or Confederation of Indian Industry and representatives from identified stressed sectors [such as Discoms in the Power Sector]” can also be made part of the panel, the law officer said.
“Please look at certain stressed sectors. Many electricity generating companies and distribution companies, most of which are government companies, are severely stressed financially,” he said, in an obvious reference to governments waiving electricity bills in fulfilment of their pre-election promise.
The top court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, which opposes the practice of political parties promising freebies during elections and seeks the Election Commission to invoke its powers to freeze their election symbols and cancel their registration.
On August 3, the top court, while asking stakeholders like the Centre, Niti Aayog and Finance Commission to brainstorm on the issue of freebies, had hinted it may order setting up a mechanism for suggesting measures to the government to deal with the issue.
“Keeping in mind the prayers made in these petitions which relate to distribution of freebies by political parties, we are of the considered view that it would be appropriate to constitute an Expert Body with representatives of all the stakeholders,” the apex court had said.
The stakeholders could include the beneficiaries, those opposing freebies, central and state governments, opposition parties, Finance Commission, Reserve Bank of India, and Niti Aayog, among others.
“….to name a few, to take a holistic and comprehensive view of the matter and making their recommendations. accordingly, the parties are directed to make their suggestions about the composition of such a body within one week’s time,” the bench had ordered.