06 Oct THE FREEBIE CULTURE
THE FREEBIE CULTURE
The article is based on how THE FREEBIE CULTURE impacts Economic and Social Development.
- The Election commission recently wrote a letter to all recognized national and state political parties asking them to spell out how they plan to raise resources to finance their poll promises.
- This is a U-turn in EC’s earlier stance where though it condemned freebies, it duly noted that regulating policy-making on freebies would be an overreach of its powers.
- The EC has given the political parties a proforma with the letter to declare quantification of the physical coverage of the promised schemes, their financial implications, and the number of financial resources available.
- Various political parties have called this step by the EC ultra vires and outside the powers of the EC.
WHAT IS FREEBIES CULTURE
- To win elections, political parties offer free electricity, water monthly allowances to the unemployed, free ration, free bus rides to women, free TVs and laptops, etc. These are called freebies and are distributed to garner votes from the public.
- They function as a bribe as people vote for the party that offers freebies
- Recently, the Supreme Court referred petitions seeking a ban on freebies distributed by political parties before elections to a three-judge bench. The bench will look if there is a need to reconsider the Apex court’s 2013 judgment in the S Subramaniam Balaji vs State case of Tamil Nadu.
- The court while referring the matter to the three-judge bench did agree that freebies create an “uneven playing field”. It asked the Election Commission of India to consult political parties and issue guidelines on the election manifesto and make it a part of the Model Code of Conduct. It further held that the political parties who form the government riding the wave of freebies are bleeding the State finances dry by actually trying to fulfill their outlandish promises using public money.
Subramaniam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu, 2013
- In this case, the Supreme Court division bench held that making promises in election manifestos does not amount to ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act (RPA)
- The petitioner argued that promises of free distribution of non-essential commodities in an election manifesto amounted to electoral bribes under Section 123 of the RP Act. He further said that money could be taken out of the Consolidated fund of India only for “public purpose” and that distribution of freebies to certain sections of society was violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
- The court however held that freebies do not amount to corrupt practices and bribes
ROLE OF THE ELECTION COMMISSION
- Article 324 of the Constitution vests the superintendence, direction, and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and the Legislature of every State with the Election
- The Supreme Court had also in an earlier case relating to the criminalization of politics held that the ECI has plenary powers to supervise and conduct free and fair elections. However, the said powers also have limitations. The ECI has to act in conformity with the law made by Parliament and cannot transgress it.
- The ECI in an affidavit filed to the Supreme Court said that there is no “precise definition” of the term ‘freebies’ in the existing law and it is difficult to define them, are subjective, and open to interpretation. It also stated that freebies can have a different impact on society, economy, and equity depending on the situation and time period
- The ECI’s recent move is being seen as institutional overreach. The commission is seen as a guardian of public value and democracy. Going outside its mandate raises questions about its credibility.
BENEFITS OF FREEBIES
- Helps the poor and downtrodden: Promises of free ration or subsidized grain and electricity may be populist but are a boon for the poor.
- Helps in growth: Freebies facilitate growth and development. Public Distribution System, employment guarantee schemes, and schemes aimed at benefits for health and education lead to growth and development
ISSUES WITH FREEBIES
- Leads to macroeconomic instability: The subsidies affect the fiscal health of the State. Often states breach the FRBM Act limit to finance freebies.
- Against free and fair election: Not all political parties are equally situated. Some may have more resources than others and can give more freebies and thus secure more votes. There may be parties who are better than the resourceful parties but cannot compete with their budget. This goes against the spirit of free and fair elections.
- Vicious cycle: It will lead to a long-term drain on finance as in every election the number of freebies will increase with the increasing competition among political parties. The one that comes to power will then spend the state funds to fulfill the promises. Hence a vicious cycle is formed.
The freebies are ultimately financed from the hard-earned money of the taxpayers. It needs to be rationalized. Only those freebies should be allowed which fulfill the goals of Directive Principles of State Policy or lead to some betterment in conditions of the poor and are productive. Loan waivers and free electricity do not help the country. Spending on education and food adding to social and human capital can be permitted. People must be made aware of the freebie culture and where the taxpayer’s money is going.
- The Indian Express. (Election Commission asks parties to explain how they plan to finance poll promises, draws Opposition fire)
- The Indian Express. (‘IPO-isation’ of political manifestos ahead of polls: Why the Election Commission’s proposal on freebies is an overreach)
Freebies a Threat to India. (Plutus IAS)
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