- Recently, the Supreme Court referred to a three-judge Bench a series of petitions seeking a judicial direction that political parties who make “wild” promises of largesse should also reveal in their poll manifestos where they will get the money to pay for them.
- The reference is a shift from the court’s own stand in the S. Subramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu judgment of 2013.
- In the Balaji case judgment, the SC had held that making promises in election manifestos do not amount to a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act (RP).
- The Courts’ recent stand is that parties who form the government riding the wave created by their pre-poll promises of “free gifts” are bleeding the State finances dry by actually trying to fulfil their outlandish promises using public money.
- The Supreme Court has therefore decided to revisit the Balaji verdict.
What triggered the Balaji case?
- During the run-up to the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections in 2006 and 2011.
- Few political parties released their election manifesto announcing a scheme of free distribution of colour television sets (CTVs) grinders, mixies, electric fans, laptop computers, four gram gold thalis, etc.
- Balaji, a resident of Tamil Nadu, challenged the schemes in the Madras High Court stating that the expenditure to be incurred by the State from the exchequer was “unauthorised, impermissible and ultra vires the constitutional mandates”.
How did the case play out?
Mr. Balaji’s arguments
- He argued that the State cannot act in furtherance of “eccentric principles of socialistic philanthropy”.
- He argued that the promises of free distribution of non-essential commodities in an election manifesto amounts to electoral bribe under Section 123 of the RP Act.
- The distribution of goods to certain sections of people was violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
The State of Tamil Nadu’s arguments
- It countered that promises of political parties do not constitute corrupt practice.
- Political parties are not the State and ‘freebies’ is a nebulous term which has no legal status.
- The promises implemented by the party after forming the government are an obligation under the Directives Principles of State Policy.
- The State is only doing its duty to promote the welfare of its people.
- The promises are implemented by framing various schemes/guidelines/eligibility criteria etc. as well as with the approval of the legislature.
- Thus, it cannot be construed as a waste of public money or be prohibited by any statute or scheme.
- The court’s judgment held that promises by a political party cannot constitute a ‘corrupt practice’ on its part.
- It would be “misleading” to construe that all promises in the election manifesto would amount to corrupt practice.
- The manifesto of a political party is a statement of its policy. The question of implementing the manifesto arises only if the political party forms a government
However, the court agreed that freebies create an “uneven playing field”. It had asked the Election Commission of India to consult political parties and issue guidelines on the election manifesto and make it a part of the Model Code of Conduct.
Why is the Court’s move to review the Balaji judgment significant?
- The court foresees that freebies may create a situation wherein the State government cannot provide basic amenities due to lack of funds and the States are pushed towards imminent bankruptcy.
- The court wants a transparent debate on whether an “enforceable” judicial order can stop political parties from promising and distributing ‘irrational freebies’.
Reviewing its own judgements
- Constitutional Provision: Under Article 137 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has the power to review any of its judgments or orders.
- The Court has the power to review its rulings to correct a “patent error” and not “minor mistakes of inconsequential import”.
- A review is by no means an appeal in disguise.
- That means the Court is allowed not to take fresh stock of the case but to correct grave errors that have resulted in the miscarriage of justice.
Must Read: Freebies
Source: The Hindu
Previous Year Question
Q.1) Consider the following statements: (2022)
- Pursuant to the report of H.N. Sanyal Committee, the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 was passed.
- The Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and the High Courts to punish for contempt of themselves.
- The Constitution of India defines Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt.
- In India, the Parliament is vested with the powers to make laws on Contempt of Court.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
- 1 and 2 only
- 1, 2 and 4
- 3 and 4 only
- 3 only