Pre-election freebie distribution needs regulation: Supreme Court

Party leaders see red; claim intervention is unnecessary

By Jitendra
Published: Saturday 06 July 2013

The apex court was hearing a petition by Delhi-based advocate S Subramaniam Balaji against the distribution of freebies in Tamil Nadu first by the government of party Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and now the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK). The court observed that mentioning of freebies in election manifesto does not come under purview of law, and directed the election commission to formulate guidelines in consultation with political parties to regulate such practices. 

Leaders react cautiously

P C Chacko, the national spokesperson for the Indian National Congress, sees it as an unnecessary intervention in the political process of a democratic setup. “Just any announcement is not a freebie. But it is a kind of social security and any democratically appointed government is empowered to do it,” says Chacko.  “It (the observation) is an unnecessary invasion. An elected government can decide better than any other,” he adds. The Congress-led UPA-I government had waived Rs 70,000 crore worth farm loans before elections in 2008, and now it is planning to distribute free mobile phones to 6 million families who are below poverty line (BPL).

Ram Naik, a senior leader of the BJP, feels there are enough laws to check corrupt practices during elections. “The law already exists. The political activities of a party are already mentioned in their manifestos. Let people decide,” says Naik. He adds that his party will come forward with a formal reaction to the SC view. The BJP government in different states is providing grains free of cost or at nominal rates such as for Rs 1 or 2 per kilogram.

For political points?

• The governments of Gujarat (BJP), Rajasthan (Congress) and Odisha (BJD) have distributed free mobile phones

• The Tamil Nadu (AIADMK) and Uttar Pradesh (SP) governments distributed laptops

• The Orissa government (Biju Janata Dal) provides rice at Rs 2 per kg

• The Chhattisgarh government (BJP) provides rice at Rs 3 per kg

• The Madhya Pradesh (BJP),government provides poor families with wheat at Rs 1 per kg and rice at Rs 2 per kg

• In 2006, the DMK government in Tamil Nadu promised to distribute free colour televisions

• In 2011, the AIDMK in Tamil Nadu promised mixer, grinders

• In 1997, the Punjab (Akali Dal- BJP) government waived farmers’ debt towards electricity and water

The Samajwadi Party distributed free laptops after coming to power in 2012. Their leaders Naresh Agarwal and Ramgopal Singh Yadav did not comment. Another SP leader, R K Singh, a Lok Sabha MP, made a veiled attack on the SC observation. “Those who work among the people know better and are more aware of ground realities than those who choose to live inside walled rooms,” says Singh. “We know much better than them,” he adds. 

Shivanand Tiwary, leader of the JD (U), says there is also another side to the coin. “Looking at the negative side of the coin doesn't give a clear picture. Many examples of landmark work were done under voter pressure, and have changed the face of the nation. The freebies culture is one of them,” he says. His party JD(U) is distributing free cycles, dresses and more. “The schemes for mahadalits are mitigating their age-old deprivations. It is the need of the hour,” adds Tiwary.

Basudev Acharya of CPI(M), however, welcomed the apex court's observation on freebie distribution. “It is nothing but bribing people. An accountable party should go into elections with its ideology and principals instead of freebies. I welcome the apex court judgment,” says Acharya.


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