Announcement of gifts by political parties will lead to economic disaster: Center to SC

NEW DELHI: The Center told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that giveaways promised by political parties ahead of the election were an “economic disaster.” The Supreme Court suggested that an expert body comprising representatives of Niti Ayog, the Finance Commission, RBI, political parties and other stakeholders, should consider the pros and cons of gifts, while recognizing that this is a serious problem.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the central government, said populist ads distort informed voter decision-making and a voter would know what is coming their way. Mehta said: “This is how it is, we are heading for economic disaster.” Mehta suggested that the Election Commission of India (ECI) should apply its mind on the matter, and they can have a makeover. The ECI lawyer said his hands were tied by a supreme court ruling on gifts.

A lawyer, involved in the case, suggested if there was a model manifesto where they say there is no harm, and if political parties declare the state debt.

A bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana said these are all empty formalities. Mehta reiterated, “We are heading for economic disaster.”

The Chief Justice said this was a serious issue and the ECI and central government could not say they could not do anything about it. He said the government and the ECI should look into the matter and make suggestions. The Chief Justice asked lead counsel Kapil Sibal, who was present in the courtroom for another case, for suggestions.

Sibal suggested that the CIS should be kept out of the issue, as it is a political and economic issue, and there should be a debate in Parliament about it.

The bench, which also includes Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, said no political party wants to take gifts and all want gifts.

The bench noted that these are all political issues and everyone should participate in the debate. “We will say Finance Committee, political parties, opposition parties, all can be members of this group. Let them have a debate and let them interact. Let them give their suggestions and submit their report,” noted the bench. A lawyer suggested that RBI should also be included in the process.

The high court asked the Center, the ECI, the petitioner and Sibal to make suggestions within a week on the composition of an expert body that will examine how to regulate the gifts and report at the Centre, at the ECI and at the tribunal. The bench has scheduled the case for a rehearing next week.

The higher court was hearing a PIL from lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay against advertisements made by political parties to induce voters, through giveaways, during elections.

Upadhyay argued that the ECI should ban state and national parties from making such promises.