Targeting poll speeches to deal freebies, fiscal deficit amounts to wild-goose chase: AAP to SC

PTI | New Delhi | Updated: 16-08-2022 19:50 IST | Created: 16-08-2022 19:50 IST
Targeting poll speeches to deal freebies, fiscal deficit amounts to wild-goose chase: AAP to SC
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Targeting and regulating electoral speeches will amount to “nothing more than a wild-goose chase” if the concerns are over fiscal deficit due to the promises of freebies made during polls by political parties, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) told the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The top court, which is mulling setting up an expert panel to brainstorm the issue of freebies announced during elections, was told by the AAP that the curb on electoral speeches, without legislative backing, would be violative of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and the proposed committee may not “encompass the regulation, let alone prohibition, of certain types of electoral speech.” “Such a restriction or prohibition, executively or judicially imposed, would amount to a curtailment of the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) without the backing of legislative sanction,” the party has said in its additional submissions.

“Further, if concerns over fiscal deficit and responsibility are indeed the point of the present proceedings (in the PIL), targeting and regulating electoral speech will amount to nothing more than a wild-goose chase,” it said.

The AAP said the electoral promises while serving an important democratic function, are completely inappropriate proxies for regulating actual fiscal outgo.

“Trying to address issues of fiscal deficit by attacking electoral speech will both hurt the democratic quality of elections by prohibiting parties from communicating their ideological stances on welfare, while also making no progress in achieving fiscal responsibility,” it said.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, which has sought suggestions from all the stakeholders on the issue of setting up the panel to discuss and suggest measures on irrational freebies, is scheduled to hear the PIL on Wednesday.

The top court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, which opposes the practice of political parties promising freebies during elections and seeks the Election Commission to invoke its powers to freeze their election symbols and cancel their registration.

The party referred to apex court judgements and said it has been consistently held that the question of the reasonableness of the restriction does not even arise if the restriction does not have the authority of legislative action in the first place.

“Thus, in the absence of any legislative guidance on the scope of policies that may be considered ‘freebies’ or on the consequences of promising such policies in electoral campaigns, any decision in this regard taken by a prospective Expert Body will be constitutionally without authority. Thus, the terms of reference that may be formulated for such a Body must exclude considerations of electoral speeches and promises, since that would implicate concerns of freedom of speech,” it said.

Electoral speeches made by unelected candidates are not, and cannot be, official statements of intent about a future government’s budgetary plans, it said.

In fact, such speeches are merely statements of a party’s or a candidate’s broad ideological positions on various issues of citizen welfare, positions that then allow citizens to make informed voting decisions, it said.

“Once such a process leads to an elected government, it is the elected government’s task to modulate, accept, reject, or substitute various schemes proposed during elections (or not proposed during elections at all), to fit the needs of the electorate as well as the government budget, and incorporate feedback received from the electorate and other experts,” it said.

The party then gave its suggestions on the composition of the proposed panel and said it should have a representative of the Central Government and states and UT each.

A representative from every recognised political party in the country should be there, it said, adding that one representative of the Reserve Bank of India, Finance Commission, and Niti Aayog be also included.

It also suggested the inclusion of a representative of planning bodies from each State/UT Government, NGOs that work at the grassroots with disadvantaged groups such as SC/STs, EWS, Minorities, etc.

Earlier, the party had filed the intervention application opposing the PIL and had said that the schemes for the socio-economic welfare of the deserving and disadvantaged masses cannot be described as ''freebies''.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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