Recently, the Election commission (EC) has asked political parties to assess the impact of the additional resource raising plan for fulfilling the promises in the form of freebies or any other expenditure before election, on fiscal sustainability of the State or the Union Government.
Freebies can be defined as something without charge or cost. It is a very well-known and widespread practice during election.
Freebies that are usually distributed include goods like bicycles, smart phones, TVs, Laptops and waivers on bills (water, electricity, etc.)
What is EC planning?
Election Commission has released a consultation paper to all recognised national and state parties.
EC has prescribed a standardised disclosure proforma for them to declare quantification of the physical coverage of the schemes promised, financial implications of the promise and availability of the financial resources.
The parties have been guided to assess the following details:
Details of the extent and expanse of the coverage of the promised scheme;
Quantification of physical coverage and financial implications,
Availability of financial resources, and
Ways and means of raising resources for meeting the additional expenditure.
To make these steps mandatory, the EC plans to propose an amendment to the relevant clauses in the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).
The Model Code of Conduct
The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the EC to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections.
It helps EC in keeping with the mandate it has been given under Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives it the power to supervise and conduct free and fair elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures.
The MCC is operational from the date on which the election schedule is announced until the date of result announcement.
Significance of the move:
According to EC, the disclosure of the promises in a prescribed format will bring in standardisation in the nature of information and help voters compare and make an informed decision.
Why India needs freebies?
Ensuring basics: The very basic argument in favour of freebies is that it the prime duty of the government to ensure basic needs like food, electricity, water etc. of the citizens, specially the underprivileged section.
Helping the marginal section: Freebies enable the government to address the concerns of marginalized sections of the society.
Revival of economy: Freebies, at times, have the potential to boost consumption and ultimately help in reviving the economy.
Mitigation of income gaps; reducing inequality: Freebies assist in mitigating the income gap between the rich and the poor in the same manner the methods like ‘progressive taxation’ do.
Can the Election Commission regulate freebies?
Offering freebies either before or after elections is a policy decision of a political party, and it cannot regulate state policies and decisions taken by the parties.
The Supreme Court had examined the issue in the Subramaniam Balaji case in 2013, had directed it to frame guidelines in consultation with the political parties to explore the possibility of including the election manifestoes released by the parties to be included in the MCC.
It got mandate in 2015.
What is the Issue behind freebie distribution?
Lack of freebie and sustainable source for parties to fulfil their promises after election should be known to every voter. However, this is somewhere missing.
False claims: Sometimes, political parties after coming to power used to default against their promises and devoid to fulfil it.
Lack of any prescribed regulation: There is no written mention of the provisions regarding mentioning mandate for political parties for their sources and claims before election.