"Freebies distort informed decision making ability of voters": Solicitor General Tushar Mehta tells Supreme Court

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The Solicitor General further argued that the offering of freebies by political parties may also lead to an economic disaster. 

Appearing for Union of India in the PIL filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay pertaining to the issue of irrational distribution of freebies from public funds before elections, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued before the Top Court today that freebies distort the informed decision making of voters.

SG further said that the offering of freebies by political parties may also lead to an economic disaster.SG insisted that the Election Commission of India should examine the issue of freebies being offered by political parties before elections.

The SG was making his submissions before a bench of Chief Justice of India Justice NV Ramana and Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli. 

Court was hearing a plea filed by Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay alleging that the declaration of distribution of irrational freebies from public funds before elections unduly influences the voters, shakes the roots of free-fair election, disturbs level playing field, vitiates the purity of election process and also violates Articles 14, 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution.

The petition has sought direction to the Election Commission of India to seize election symbols and deregister political parties, which promise/ distribute irrational freebies from public fund before an election and to the Centre to enact a Law in this regard.

Vikas Singh, Sr. Adv, appearing for Upadhyay, suggested that the Election Commission should come up with a model manifesto that will address the issue of freebies. The CJI however said, "We have seen the model manifesto from last so many years. These are all empty formalities."

The CJI made it clear that the petition is being viewed at from the perspective of economic implications of freebies and not just the election implications. 

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, whose help was sought by the CJI on the last date of hearing, appeared today and submitted that the election commission must be kept out of this issue. He argued that by involving the election commission, the whole issue will be politicised. Objecting to this, the SG said that the sanctity of the election commission should not be undermined. 

The CJI opined, "Everybody feels the money paid as taxes is not used for the purposes of development etc. and thus everyone should use an independent forum but court should not be that forum.

He told the parties that there should be some deliberation between all the stakeholders involved. He, thus, ordered that stakeholders such as RBI, NITI Aayog, opposition parties and those who are for and against freebies should be involved in this process of engaging in a constructive brainstorming and suggest the court about the formation of body, which can be constituted by the court to examine the issue. 

The matter will now come up for further consideration on August 8, 2022. 

The Supreme Court issued notice in the plea in January, 2022. On the last date of hearing, Court asked the Central Government to consider involving the Finance Commission in the issue.

Case title: Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay Vs Union of India