SC Judgment on Election Freebies

Democracy is the most efficacious form of government; in which citizen of the country have prerogative rights of adult suffrage whereby people actively participating in the selection of the government by periodic conducting election. This, shows to indicate that the people hold that sovereign power to determine. So, in democracy the people are the source of power and its success and failure depend on their wisdom, consciousness and vigilance.

A government “by the people and of the people” should quite naturally deliver ideal governance “for the people”, but in reality it is far apart. Basic issues with democracy is that voters do not make rational or truly informed choices likewise keeping most democracies focused on the short term growth aspect. Thus, freebies vitiate the sanctity of elections; smearing campaigns by candidates have a large bearing on the voter’s personality and their choices.

In the concern with the Indian democracy distribution of freebies in elections, in the form of the cash, bribes, free rice, saris or loan wavers and its mandatory practice by parties has predominantly overtaken the centre stage in all election campaigns. 

In SubramaniamBalaji V/S. State of Tamil Nadu-

1. Both the rival of DMK and ADMK promised free gifts like colour TV sets, fans, mixer grinders and laptops in their manifestos, on winning the Assembly Elections of 2006 and 2011 respectively. Thus, legitimacy of the promises made during these elections were challenged by Mr. SubramaniamBalaji, terming it to be ‘unauthorized, impermissible and ultra-vires the constitutional mandates.

2. Any ‘gift’ or the ‘Promise’ offer by the candidates or his agent to induce an elector to vote in his favour would amount to ‘Bribery’ under section 123 of the Representation of People’s Act. To publicize various schemes and promises to distribute gifts whose value is estimable in money and that too from the consolidated fund of the State under the head “Promise at publication” or “public policy” or “public good” is to defeat the purposes of Section 123(1) of the RP Act.

Judgment of the court:

The court after elaborate hearing of the case and extensive analysis of issues:

1. That the promises to distribute election freebies in an election manifesto cannot be read into the language of the Section 123 of the RP Act, for asserting it to be corrupt practices under the prevalent law in force. 

2. That the schemes do not violate of Article 14 of public purpose and reasonable classification as- in the realm of fulfilling the DPSP’s.

SC stated that the promises made in an election manifesto cannot be construed as a ‘corrupt practice’ under section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, it acknowledged that in reality distribution of free gifts by political parties does influence the electorate and” shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree’. 

New Guidelines added to Model Code of Conduct:

1. The election manifesto shall not contain anything repugnant to the ideals and principles enshrined in the Constitution and further that it shall be consistent with the later and spirit of other provisions of Model Code of Conduct.

2. The Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution enjoin upon the State to frame various welfare measures for the citizens and therefore there can be no objection to the promise of such welfare measures in election manifestos. However, political parties should avoid making those promises which are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise. 

3. In the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifestos also reflect the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it. Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled.

Way ahead:

1. It is impertinent to say that these enticing promises are in contradict to their sense, which are precisely shooting up the parties’ notion treat freebies as a bargain for voters vote.There is a need to make the bureaucracy and police independent. There is also a need to create a statutory, independent police commission, along the lines of the election commission, to supervise crime investigation and prosecution. Ideally, an independent state police commissions should be created in every state. This will end political interference and curb corruption, ultimately benefiting the entire political process. A popular perception about the reason for the increasing fortunes for politicians is corruption. To curb corruption there is a need for political, judicial and administrative reforms. 

2. Currently, political funding is opaque and non-transparent, and at times is linked to corruption. Political funding is mobilised by looting the exchequer and by selling patronage. To improve governance there is a need to undertake judicial reforms too, to ensure that cases do not go on and on for many years.Unfortunately there no regulation of malpractice, unprofessionalism or wrongdoing in manifesto preparedness nor there is a systematic mechanism for the supervision and control of these wrongdoing and malpractices.