Friday, Dec 02, 2022

Freebies Debate: Poll Panel Proposes To Require Parties To Tell Voters How Viable Their Promises Are

Freebies Debate: Poll Panel Proposes To Require Parties To Tell Voters How Viable Their Promises Are

The Election Commission said it can't overlook the undesirable impact inadequate disclosures on election promises have on financial sustainability.

UP Assembly Elections 2022: 4th phase voting
UP Assembly Elections 2022: 4th phase voting PTI Photo/Nand Kumar

Amid the ongoing public debate and political slugfest over freebies, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Tuesday proposed to amend the model code and require political parties to provide the financial viability of their electoral promises. 

The ECI's propsal comes amid freebies versus public welfare debates in which parties such as Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have sharply confronted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who termed populist electoral promises as rewadi — a popular sweet dish distributed during festivals. Populist measures such as free power is a main electoralm tool of AAP. After Delhi, it has made similar promises in Gujarat, which is expected to go to polls later this year.

In a letter to all recognised national and state parties, the ECI asked them to submit their views on the proposals by October 19.

The EC also said empty poll promises have far-reaching ramifications, adding it cannot overlook the undesirable impact inadequate disclosures on election promises have on financial sustainability.

"The Commission notes that the consequences of inadequate disclosures by political parties get attenuated by the fact that elections are held frequently, providing opportunities for political parties to indulge in competitive electoral promises, particularly in multi-phase elections, without having to spell out their financial implications more particularly on committed expenditure," said the letter.

Reacting to the ECI proposal, the AAP said governments should spend the taxpayers' money to provide facilities to people, not to benefit political leaders, their family members and friends.

Providing electricity, water, schools and other facilities to the people is the “core responsibility” of any government, the party said.

Supreme Court also joined the freebies debate

The Supreme Court also recently observed that the issue concerning freebies is an important one and requires debate.

The Supreme Court in August said that freebies at the cost of taxpayers' money can push states towards "imminent bankruptcy" and may lead to a situation where states may not provide basic amenities to people because of lack of funds. 

"Freebies may create a situation wherein the State Government cannot provide basic amenities due to lack of funds and the State is pushed towards imminent bankruptcy. In the same breath, we should remember that such freebies are extended utilising taxpayers' money only for increasing the popularity of the party and electoral prospects," said a bench headed by the-then Chief Justice NV Ramana.

Election Commission's proposal on freebies

The ECI has proposed to amend the Model Code of Conduct to add a proforma to Part VIII (Guidelines on election manifesto) of the MCC. It will require political parties to inform voters about the financial feasibility of promises made in their manifestos and also whether they are sustainable within the financial space of the state or the Union government.

The proposed proforma seeks details of revenue generation ways — through additional tax, if any, rationalising expenditure — cutting some schemes, if so required, impact on committed liabilities and/or raising of further debt and its impact on Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM) limits.

The model code is a document which guides the ECI in ensuring level playing field for all political parties and candidates during elections.

The poll panel said it is of the considered view that with adequate disclosures on the financial implications of the promises made, the Indian electorate will be able to exercise informed poll choices.

The EC said, "Although implementation of election promises could have several ramifications, the Commission proposes to confine the disclosures to only the financial implications of the promises in terms of the financial resources required."

Can't be mute to undesirable effects of some promises: ECI

The ECI in a recent meeting led by Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and attended by Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey decided it cannot remain a "mute spectator" and overlook the undesirable impact of some of the promises and offers on the conduct of free and fair elections and maintaining level playing field, sources said.

Sources further told PTI the poll panel agrees in principle with the point of view that framing of manifestos is the right of the political parties.

(With PTI inputs)