Freebies by Political Parties

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    In News

    • Recently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) replied to the Supreme Court (SC) in a PIL against freebies offered by the state parties.

    Argument favouring the Plea

    • Violates constitutional provisions: The plea highlights that the promise of irrational freebies, which are not for public purposes, from public funds before election, violates Articles 14, 162, 266(3), and 282 of the Constitution.

    ECI’s Stand

    • Will of political parties:
      • ECI stated that offering freebies before or after the election is a policy decision of political parties.
    • Voter’s discretion:
      • Financial viability of these policies and their adverse effects on the economic health of the state is a question that has to be considered and decided by the voters. 
    • Need for enabling law:
      • ECI is of the opinion that without enabling provisions in the law, de-registration of political parties will be an overreach of powers. 
    • Action taken by ECI to avoid such scenarios:
      • Model code of conduct guidelines have been framed by ECI after consultation with recognised political parties.
      • The promises made in manifestos are not enforceable under election law. 
      • However, the ECI had advised all the recognised political parties to submit a declaration along with the copies of the manifestoes. Also to see that the promises made therein are in consonance with the Model Code of Conduct.

    Deregistration of Political Parties

    • Background: 
      • In December 2016, 47 proposals were sent to the Centre on reforms relating to political parties, including their de-registration. 
      • It was recommended to the Law Ministry to enable the EC to exercise the power to de-register a political party and to issue necessary orders regulating registration and de-registration of political parties.
    • SC’s verdict:
      • The Supreme Court in its verdict of 2002,  in case of Indian National Congress Vs Institute of Social Welfare and others, had directed that the EC had no power to cancel the registration of a political party except for three grounds.
        • Registration obtained on fraud and forgery, 
        • Party ceased to have faith and allegiance to the Constitution, and 
        • Any other similar ground.

    Freebies

    • There is no such thing as a freebie in economics because ultimately somebody has to bear the cost of the supposedly free giveaways. 
    • The concept is popularly known as There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
    • It means that  everything has to be paid for by taxes if not today then tomorrow. 

    Problems with Freebies

    • Financial irregularity: The reckless spending of the taxpayers money on freebies is neither a recognised policy/custom nor it is sanctioned in a court of law. It is blatant financial irregularity that amounts to bribing voters using public money solely for gaining advantage in electoral politics.
    • Burden on Public Exchequer: If states continue with fiscal profligacy, they will be heading towards unsustainable high debt with catastrophic consequences for macro-economic stability and ability of India to sustain high growth. 
    • Vote bank politics: Political parties’ promises to lure voters in their favour is analogous to bribery and undue influences.
    • Lacking equity or fairness: Freebies serve even those who are capable of managing on their own at the cost of those who can not pay for their own. This promotes inequality.
    • Fiscal mismanagement: Most states lack the cushion to spend money as freebie and then be able to save state’s finances from going down into fiscal deficits.
    • Promotes tax avoidance: Freebies may even trigger non-compliance amongst taxpayers and eventually lead to lower revenue. 

    Image Courtesy:  LM 

    Way Ahead

    • There is an urgent need to put an end to freebies. 
    • The Finance Commission should recommend a ban to freebies and if need be, it should ask the government to amend the Constitution.

     

    Election Commission India

    • About:
      • The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950.
      • The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional body responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
      • The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, State Legislative Councils and the offices of the President and Vice President of the country.
      • It is not concerned with the elections to panchayats and municipalities in the states.
      • For this, the Constitution of India provides for a separate State Election Commission.
    • Constitutional Provisions:
      • Its powers, appointment and duties are mentioned in Part XV of the Constitution (Article 324 to Article 329) and the Representation of People Act.
      • Article 324: Superintendence, direction and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission.
      • Article 325: No person to be ineligible for inclusion in, or to claim to be included in a special electoral roll on the ground of religion, race, caste or sex.
      • Article 326: Elections to the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assemblies of States to be on the basis of adult suffrage.
      • Article 327: Power of Parliament to make provision with respect to elections to legislature.
      • Article 328: Power of Legislature of a State to make provision with respect to elections to such Legislature.
      • Article 329: Bar to interference by courts in electoral matters.
    • Composition:
      • Originally the commission had only a Chief Election Commissioner.
      • It currently consists of the Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
      • For the first time, two additional Commissioners were appointed on 16th October 1989 but they had a very short tenure till 1st January 1990.
      • Later, on 1st October 1993 two additional Election Commissioners were appointed.
      • The concept of a multi-member Commission has been in operation since then, with decision making power by majority vote.

    Source: BS + TH