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Economy losing money, freebies distribution a ‘serious issue’: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Thursday observed that promising and distribution of freebies by political parties during the poll season is “a serious issue” as the economy is losing money due to this, Bar and Bench reported.

The apex court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, seeking a ban on political parties promising ‘freebies’ to lure voters in the run-up to elections. The plea asked for steps to regulate poll manifesto and make political parties accountable for promises made therein.

“Nobody says it is not an issue. It is a serious issue. Those who are getting they want it and ours is a welfare state. Some may say that they are paying taxes and it has to be used for the developmental process. So it's a serious issue. So both side has to be heard by the committee,” Chief Justice of India NV Ramana was quoted as saying by the Bar and Bench.

The CJI also noted that India was a country “where there is poverty and the central government also has plans to feed hungry” and said that the economy was losing money and that “people’s welfare has to be balanced.”

The court will next hear the plea on August 17.

The petitioner's argument
According to a submission made in the PIL, an economic impact assessment is essential before the distribution of "irrational freebies". On behalf of the petitioner, senior advocate Vijay Hansaria submitted that the two highest economic bodies of the country had expressed concern over the long-term impact on the distribution of freebies by states without proper fiscal and budgetary management.
"It is submitted that state governments have been borrowing money even when the loan from the Government of India is outstanding without complying with requirements of Article 293(3) and (4). It is necessary to have strict enforcement of these provisions including a 'system of credit rating' being introduced for grant of credit facilities to the states," the submissions stated.
The Election Commission's stance
The Election Commission on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it welcomed the suggestion of setting up a panel to brainstorm the issue of freebies announced during elections, but it being a constitutional authority, be not made a part.
The poll panel also referred to the reported strong oral observations of the top court against it during the last hearing on the PIL on the issue, saying they have caused irreparable damage to the reputation of the institution built over the years.
The PIL seeks the Election Commission to invoke its powers to freeze election symbols and cancel registrations of parties that give out such freebies.

Earlier, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) opposed the plea and said that “schemes for the socioeconomic welfare of deserving and disadvantaged masses cannot be described as ‘freebies’”. The party also accused the petitioner — who it said has “strong links” to the BJP — of “furthering a particular political agenda”.

(With PTI inputs)

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