SC: Can access to free education, drinking water, electricity be termed freebies?

by IANS |

New Delhi, Aug 17 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Wednesday orally observed that issues raised during the hearing of petition against freebies promised by political parties during polls is getting "increasingly complicated", and whether access to free education, drinking water, electricity can be termed freebies?

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana orally observed that the court cannot prevent political parties from making promises. However, it added that the question is what constitutes right promises?

The bench, also comprising Justices J.K. Maheshwari and Hima Kohli, further queried, "can we describe the promise of free education as a freebie? Can free drinking water, units of powers, etc., be described as freebies?"

The bench said whether free electronics can be described as welfare? The concern right now is what is the right way of spending public money. "Some say money is wasted; some say it is welfare. The issue is getting increasingly complicated," said the bench, asking the parties involved in the matter to give their opinions, and after debate and discussion on the matter, the court may take a decision. The bench also cited the example of schemes such as MNREGA.

Senior advocate P. Wilson, representing the DMK party, said the party has filed an application to implead itself in the case. The DMK said that the scope of a 'freebie' is very wide and there are a lot of aspects which are to be considered and a welfare scheme introduced by a state government cannot be judged to be classified as a freebie. The party said the PIL, against freebies, will frustrate the objectives of the Directive Principles of State Policy, and objected to the court's proposal to constitute an expert committee to examine the issue of freebies.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted, "If our understanding of social welfare is to distribute everything for free, then I am sorry to say...it is an immature understanding".

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the petitioner, complained that DMK's impleadment application was not served on the petitioner, instead it was given to the media. The bench said this should not be used for publicity and it should be ensured that parties are supplied with copies of applications. The top court asked all the parties to give their suggestions by Saturday evening and scheduled the matter for further hearing next week.

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.,

The Aam Aadmi Party has told the Supreme Court that regulating electoral speech will amount to nothing more than a wild-goose chase, as it opposed a proposal to set up an expert body to examine the issues associated with "freebies" promised by the political parties to induce voters.

The top court is hearing a plea by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay seeking directions to the Centre and the Election Commission to take steps to regulate poll manifestos of political parties and also against irrational freebies promised by political parties to induce voters during polls.

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