India's Supreme Court has observed that freebies doled out by political parties to appease voters are a serious issue and taxpayers have the right to raise questions about it.
"Taxpayers may raise concerns about spending public money on developmental works, rather than handouts," the court said on Thursday while hearing a PIL seeking a ban on political parties promising ‘freebies’ to attract voters in the run-up to elections.
Sying it could not take an ad-hoc decision on the topic as economic implications need to be taken into account, the court posted the matter for hearing on August 17.
The Central government said in the court on Thursday that political parties are using public money as freebies to gain power and said welfare schemes were different.
Earlier this week, the Aam Aadmi Party had opposed the PIL, filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, arguing that it was furthering a political agenda and that schemes for the socio-economic welfare of the deserving and disadvantaged masses cannot be described as "freebies".
Opposing the plea seeking action against political parties, AAP lawyers said on Thursday that welfare measures were political bargains between parties and people, and the electorate is capable of making informed decisions.
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.
(With PTI inputs)