In the opinion of the majority of prominent legal experts and advocates, the Supreme Court’s decision to create a committee to investigate the issue of gifts given by political parties amounts to ‘burial by committee.’
On August 3, the Supreme Court made the decision to form an expert panel that would include representatives from the government, Opposition parties, Niti Aayog, the Election Commission, the Finance Commission, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to investigate the economic effects of freebies announced by political parties during elections.
It has been scheduled for August 11.
The Centre, Election Commission, senior attorney and Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal, as well as the petitioners, were asked to submit their suggestions on the makeup of the expert panel that will consider the question of how to regulate freebies within seven days by a bench consisting of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli. It was a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) hearing for a petition Ashwini Upadhyay filed asking for guidelines to control freebies given out by political parties.
The majority of prominent legal experts, however, think that the committee’s creation will put an end to the problem. The committee and the court are asking what impact these giveaways will have on elections. Rajeev Dhavan, a senior attorney, questioned how the committee would respond.
He continued, ‘The committee can’t say ban this and ban that since any proposal would require changing the electoral legislation, which would be challenging to put into effect.’
The announcement of these freebies is coming from a political party, so will they target the party or the politician making the announcement? Parties cannot be disqualified. The actual issues, according to Dhavan, are how this committee will affect electoral legislation and disqualification.
Sanjay Hegde, a seasoned Supreme Court attorney, shared a similar viewpoint. ‘Only a committee is being established. No report has yet arrived. The question of jurisdiction won’t come up unless the Supreme Court decides to implement the committee’s suggestions. As of now, it seems like it will be a burial by committee,’ he maintained.
After the committee issues its findings, the Supreme Court will have more knowledge about the subject and will be better prepared to decide whether or not to address the issue, he continued.
Founder of the Indian Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) and Supreme Court attorney Anas Tanwir said that the Supreme Court should first take up the Electoral Bonds matter, which has been pending before it since 2019.
‘Electoral bonds have a much greater impact on free and fair elections than giveaways ever can. We live in a welfare state, thus it is only necessary that the subsidies and purported ‘freebies’ continue to be announced. The vast majority of people need it,’ he noted.
Vikas Singh, the attorney for petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay, requested that the EC create a model code of conduct. He had argued in his petition that political parties publicise giveaways to entice votes. He wanted political parties to take into account the national debt.
Speaking on behalf of the Union government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asserted that populist freebies undermine voters’ ability to make informed decisions and, if unchecked, will result in a financial catastrophe.
Tanwir pointed out that the money from the tax payers, which he claimed was being spent to build sculptures and a new Central Vista, was not being insulted by the grant of the so-called ‘freebies.’
Sibal, who was asked for his opinions on the subject, suggested that the Election Commission stay out of the conversation because it was a political and economic topic unrelated to elections. Additionally, he proposed that the matter be brought up in Parliament.