‘Not apt to be on expert panel, court’s observation damaged reputation’, EC to SC on freebies

New Delhi: The Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that being a constitutional body, it should be kept away from the panel of experts – representing a wide spectrum of governmental and non-governmental bodies — proposed to deliberate on the validity of freebies which political parties announce to induce voters during polls.

In the previous hearing in the matter, the top court had orally expressed its discontent with the EC for not taking a stand on the ‘menace’ of freebies offered by the political parties.

The EC, in an affidavit, said: “It may not be appropriate for the commission being the constitutional authority to offer to be part of the expert committee, especially if there are ministries or government bodies in the body.”

However, it welcomed the setting up of the expert panel, having representation from a wide spectrum of governmental and non-governmental bodies, concerned regulatory, planning and policy research institutions, political parties, domain experts from relevant socio-economic sectors — agriculture, finance, banking, social justice, environment etc.

The EC said: “There are continuous elections in the country and any opinion/view/comment during deliberations in a multi-member body might, in the event of being publicised, amount to pre-deciding the issue and disturbing the level playing field.”

The EC added that it will be greatly benefited by the recommendations of the expert body, which the top court may deem appropriate to set up and it is also committed to give highest consideration to the same, while strengthening/modifying its existing guidelines in the interest of purity of electoral process.

The EC filed its response on a PIL moved by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay to regulate freebies.

The EC said the oral observation made by the top court for not taking a stand on the freebies issue was widely reported in the media, which caused irreparable damage to its reputation built over the years.

“The reputational damage of this magnitude does not augur well for the country, which is relatively young but is the largest and most stable democracy in the world,” it said.

The EC said it had earlier reiterated its limitations imposed by the top court in the S. Subramaiam Balaji case, which it consistently followed in letter and spirit and yet was portrayed in bad light that made this institution non-serious in tackling the menace of offering freebies.

In the Balaji case, the top court had directed the EC to frame guidelines in consultation with the political parties and incorporate the same in the Model Code of Conduct.

“It is submitted that the said direction was duly complied with, and the said guidelines incorporated as Part VIII of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) now require the political parties and candidates to explain the rationale for promises made therein as well as the possible ways and means to finance such promises,” it said.

The EC added that in the Balaji case, the top court had held that promises made by the political parties and candidates in the manifestos could neither be construed as a corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 nor as violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

On August 3, the Supreme Court, while hearing Upadhyay’s PIL, had acknowledged that some help to the poor is required, but it also wanted to know the impact of freebies on the national economy.

The top court had sought suggestions from the stakeholders and recommended setting up an expert panel to scrutinise the issues associated with irrational freebies.

The top court asked the stakeholders such as the Centre, Niti Aayog, Finance Commission and the RBI to brainstorm on the issues associated with irrational announcement of freebies during polls.



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