Supreme Court judgment on Election freebies

‘ It is difficult to understand these people who democratically take part in elections and  a referendum, but are then incapable of democratically accepting the will of the people, Idealism loses to pragmatism when it comes to winning elections likewise we should measure welfare success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added’.

Democracy is the most efficacious form of government; in which citizen of the country have prerogative rights of adult suffrage whereby people actively participate in the selection of the government by periodic conducting election. This, indicate that the people hold sovereign power. 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. Therefore there is an upsurge trend on doing out freebies to voters during pre and post election period resulted in to garnering votes, creating a vote bank in process so, the specter of corruption and hoodwinking of the credulous, gullible masses easily hang over all electoral process in the country.

The kind of the exploitation of the freebies with the objective of the ‘welfare society’ is only treating the cause of apathy but not uprooting it from the society. Thus fighting righteously tooth and nails against such corrupt practices with all  means available is the hours need otherwise a time shall come to amputate the existence of democratic election process.

In Subramaniam Balaji V/S. State of Tamil Nadu-

2. 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. Subramaniam Balaji, 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 of the above mentioned issues of the case arrived on the following conclusion:

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 Art. 14 of public purpose and reasonable classification as it is in the realm of fulfilling the DPSP’s.

Direction of the court:

1. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the State of Tamil Nadu, stating 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’. 

2. The Election Commission to frame guidelines with consultation of political parties on its general conduct and election manifesto including Model code of Conduct (MCC) for the guidance of political parties and candidates.

3. In the abovementioned case it is laid down on technical ground that distribution of freebies of any kind or consideration does not constitute a ‘Corrupt practice’ under section 123 of The RP Act. But, in its directions has clearly said that these practices vitiate the elections by enticing and influencing the voter’s creed.

4. In assent with SC observation that all the constructive social welfare schemes promised cannot be read as a corrupt practice, but majorly, schemes in reality do influence the voters to great extends.  There is no clear return on the investment, as there is neither comprehensive beneficiary list nor evaluation of the outcome of such schemes, straight outline defeating the contention of distribution in accordance to Art.14, to the needy and downtrodden ones. Art. 14 apply to matters of government policy and such policy and action would be unconstitutional if it fails to satisfy the test of reasonableness.

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.