Friday, September 29, 2023

Pleas opposing promises of pre-election freebies to be listed before three-judge bench: SC

Supreme Court

New Delhi, November 1: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the pleas against the practice of political parties promising pre-election freebies will be heard “in entirety” by a three-judge bench.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and Justice Bela M Trivedi said it was sitting in a combination of two and according to a reference order on the matter, it should go before a bench of three judges for disposal.
“Once there is a reference order that the matter has to be heard by a three judges bench then it will be heard by a three judges bench,” the CJI said, adding the judicial records be placed before the Chief Justice in his administrative capacity for listing these cases before an appropriate bench.
Considering the nature of the controversy and submissions made by the parties in the earlier hearings, the matter would be listed as early as possible, the bench said.
Ashwini Upadhayay, one of the PIL petitioners, said the matter has to be heard by a larger bench with an aim to examine the earlier judgement in the Subramaniam Balaji case.
The lawyer also suggested that a committee of experts be set up to control irrational freebies in larger public interest and to ensure free and fair election and suggested that the Chief Election Commissioner be made head of the panel.
He also said that the RBI Governor, Chairman of the Finance Commission, Vice Chairperson of NITI Aayog, Controller and Auditor General, Secretary of GST Council and presidents of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and the Institute of Cost Accountants of India be made members of the panel.
The bench, however, said it would not be able to consider any such request and they will be taken note of by the appropriate bench.
Earlier, a bench headed by then CJI N V Ramana, since retired, had directed on August 26 that the pleas be listed before a three-judge bench as they needed an “extensive” hearing.
The bench had said that the 2013 judgement delivered by a two-judge bench of the apex court in the matter of S Subramaniam Balaji vs the Government of Tamil Nadu and others required reconsideration.
“Looking into the complexities of the issues involved and the prayer to overrule the judgement rendered by a two-judge bench of this court in Subramaniam Balaji, we direct listing of the set of petitions before a three-judge bench after obtaining the orders from the Chief Justice of India,” it had said.
In its 2013 judgement, the apex court had noted that after examining and considering the parameters laid in section 123 of the Representation of People Act (RPA), it arrived at a conclusion that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be read into section 123 for declaring it to be a corrupt practice.
It had noted there are certain preliminary issues that may be needed to be deliberated upon in these petitions. The issues included the scope of judicial intervention with respect to the reliefs sought in these pleas, whether any enforceable order can be passed by this court in these writ petitions and whether appointment of a commission/expert body by the court would serve any purpose.
The bench had said the question raised in these petitions relates to promises made by the political parties for distribution of freebies as part of their election manifesto or during the poll speeches.
The bench had further said the main contention of the petitioners is that such poll promises have an impact on the economy of the state and it cannot be permitted.
“There can be no denial of the fact that in an electoral democracy, such as us, the true power ultimately lies with the electorate.”
The bench was deliberating on pleas including the one filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay opposing promises of such handouts by the parties during polls. The petitions wanted the Election Commission to invoke its powers to freeze the election symbols of these parties and cancel their registration. (PTI)