Voters would prefer dignified earning through welfare schemes to freebies: SC

Chief Justice N V Ramana said freebies should not be confused with welfare schemes introduced by states

Supreme Court, Maharashtra political crisis

Freebies do not always decide the outcome of elections for political parties, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday adding that voters, if given a chance, will prefer to earn with dignity through welfare schemes such as MNREGA.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said there have been instances of parties losing elections in spite of their promises of freebies. “Given an opportunity, they (voters) will opt for dignified earning. For example, MNREGA offered dignified earning and also created public assets in rural areas. So, I don’t think promises alone decide the outcome of elections… There are instances of parties not being elected despite their promises,” Chief Justice Ramana said.

Also read: Freebies distribution during elections is ‘serious issue’: Supreme Court

Petition on public money spending

The court was hearing a petition to curb the practice of offering or distributing “irrational freebies” at the cost of public money, especially in debt-ridden states, during the run-up to elections.

The court said its primary concern is about “the right way of spending public money” and indicated that promises of freebies come at a cost to the public exchequer.

“We cannot stop political parties from making promises. But the question is what does a ‘valid promise’ exactly comprise? Can promise of electricity, water, a few units of power be considered as freebies? Can we treat promises of consumer products, electronics free of cost for all as a welfare measure?” the court asked.

Chief Justice Ramana said freebies should not be confused with welfare schemes introduced by states.

Bench cites Article 38

The Bench noted that Article 38 of the Constitution mandates states to ensure the welfare of the people, “minimise inequalities in income and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations”.

The court said parties involved, including the Centre, state parties should come up with their opinions and recommendations on the issue of freebies which is getting more “complicated”. The court posted the case for next week.

Also read: Supreme Court judgment misses an opportunity to refine PMLA

Chief Justice Ramana said the court is striving for a balance between the welfare requirements of the people, especially the poor and the downtrodden, and the need to avert a national economic loss through unbridled distribution of largesse by political parties to hold on to power.