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S. Subhramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu Judgement (the issue of freebies),

  • Published
    29th Aug, 2022
Context

Recently, the Supreme Court has referred the issue of political parties making “wild” promises of largesse to a three-judge Bench seeking a judicial direction. The reference is a shift from the court’s own stand in the S. Subramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu judgment of 2013.

About

Balaji case judgment and the present issue:

  • In the Balaji case judgment, Supreme Court had held that making promises in election manifestos does not amount to a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act (RP). The poll promises and freebies are a serious issue that disturbs the level-playing field in elections.
  • The Supreme Court is worried about the freebies promised by political parties to win elections could bleed the public exchequer dry.
  • The Court said that parties who form the government riding the wave created by their pre-poll promises of “free gifts” are bleeding the State finances dry.
  • The Supreme Court has therefore decided to revisit the Balaji verdict.


Important welfare measures

There are certain services such as health, education, water, sewerage, electricity and transport that people cannot organise for themselves. That’s why they elect governments. These are all welfare measures.

Meaning of freebie

Dictionary meaning of freebie is “something that is given to you without you having to pay for it, especially as a way of attracting your support for or interest in something”, there is no clarity on how it should be interpreted in policies.

What do Political Parties have to say in their defense?

  • According to the Political parties, they are not the State and ‘freebies’ is a vague term that has no legal status.
  • The promises implemented by the party after forming the government are an obligation under the Directives Principles of State Policy (DPSP). The State is only doing its duty to promote the welfare of its people.

DPSP in Part IV of the Constitution says the state government should promote the welfare of people who are Below the Poverty Line (BPL) or cannot progress without support. 

  •  The promises are implemented by framing various schemes/guidelines/eligibility criteria etc. as well as with the approval of the legislature.

Issues associated with freebies

Positive side

  • Disrupts state finances and throws governments into a debt spiral
  • Against Equality Principle
  • Against Equality Principle
  • Ensuring basics
  • Helping the marginal section
  • Revival of economy
  • Mitigation of income gaps; reducing inequality
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