Economy losing serious money: Supreme Court slams freebies
Observing that promising and distributing freebies during election season is a "serious issue", the Supreme Court on Thursday came down heavily on the concept of freebies. The bench, headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, said that the economy is losing serious money due to this. The statement comes amid an ongoing hearing about regulating poll manifestos and making parties accountable for 'freebies'.
- From television sets in Tamil Nadu, laptops in Uttar Pradesh to even bus rides in Delhi, India has had a long-running 'freebie' culture.
- Hearing a petition on the issue last week, the SC said that a panel of experts should determine the pros and cons of political freebies.
- The top court also targeted the Election Commission for its 'inaction' on the issue.
Hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the bench said that welfare needs to be balanced. "It is a serious issue. Those who are getting, they want it and ours is a welfare state. Some may say they are paying taxes and it has to be used for developmental process," CJI Ramana noted. The bench also said that freebies and social welfare schemes are separate.
Stressing the need to balance the two, the top court said, "Freebies and social welfare schemes are different...Economy is losing the money and the welfare of people, both have to be balanced." Scheduled to retire this month, CJI Ramana requested the advocates to submit thoughts on the issue before August 26. The plea has been filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay.
The PIL opposes parties promising freebies during polls and demands the EC freeze their election symbols. However, the CJI refused to de-register parties that are involved in distributing 'freebies' during election season. "I do not want to enter the area of de registering a party...its an undemocratic arena. We are a democracy after all," he remarked, according to Bar&Bench.
Speaking for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the distribution of freebies has been "elevated" to art by some parties. He claimed that the thought that welfare measures are the only way is unscientific and will lead to an "economic disaster". Mehta proposed the formation of a committee comprising government officers and party representatives. The matter will be heard on August 17.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has openly criticized the petition and said that socio-economic welfare schemes cannot be described as freebies. The party has also accused Upadhyay, former Delhi BJP spokesperson, of furthering government agenda. After Uttar Pradesh announced free bus rides for women aged 60+ on Wednesday, AAP said that this is a rebellion against PM Narendra Modi.