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Frame norms for freebies promised by parties: SC to EC
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NEW DELHI, July 5 (Agencies): Freebies promised by political parties in their election manifestos to lure voters shake the roots of free and fair polls, the Supreme Court observed today as it directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines for regulating contents of manifestos.

Holding that such promises by political parties under present law does not amount to corrupt practice, the apex court, however, said that election manifesto released by parties can be included in the Model Code of Conduct.

"Although, the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as 'corrupt practice' under Section 123 of Representation of People's (RP) Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree," bench of justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said.

"Considering that there is no enactment that directly governs the contents of the election manifesto, we hereby direct the Election Commission to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with all the recognized political parties," the bench said adding "a separate head for guidelines for election manifesto released by a political party can also be included in the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties & Candidates".

The judgement can have wide ramifications and can put a curb on political parties for promising different types of freebies like distributing laptops, TVs, grinders and mixers, electric fans, four gram gold thali and free foodgrains for wooing the voters. The election manifesto of parties will also come under the scruitny of the Commission.

The bench said though the election manifesto is published before the code of conduct comes into force, the Commission can make an exception by bringing its within code of conduct.

"We are mindful of the fact that generally political parties release their election manifesto before the announcement of election date, in that scenario, strictly speaking, the Election Commission will not have the authority to regulate any act which is done before the announcement of the date.

"Nevertheless, an exception can be made in this regard as the purpose of election manifesto is directly associated with the election process," the bench said.

The apex court agreed with the election commission's submission that freebies promised by the parties disturb the level-playing field among players contesting the polls and vitiates the election process and said that separate legislation be made by Parliament on the issue.

"We hereby direct the Election Commission to take up this task as early as possible owing to its utmost importance. We also record the need for a separate legislation to be passed by the legislature in this regard for governing the political parties in our democratic society," it said.


News Updated at : Friday, July 5, 2013
 
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