The promise of pre-election freebies by political parties is a corrupt practice and “bribe” under the Representation of the People Act which is a ground for declaring an election to be void, the Supreme Court was told on Wednesday.
A three-judge bench was deliberating on petitions, including the one filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, opposing promises of such handouts by the parties during polls. The petitions have sought direction to the Election Commission to invoke its powers to freeze the election symbols of these parties and cancel their registration.
Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, appearing for the petitioner, told the bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud that the 2013 judgement delivered by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the matter of S Subramaniam Balaji vs The Government of Tamil Nadu and others required reconsideration.
In its 2013 judgment, the top court had noted that after examining and considering the parameters laid in section 123 of the Representation of People Act (RPA), it arrived at a conclusion that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be read into section 123 for declaring it to be a corrupt practice.
Mr Hansaria submitted before the bench, also comprising justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, that the judgment in the case of S Subramanium Balaji does not lay down the correct law.
“Under section 123 of the RP Act, 1951 ‘bribery’ is deemed to be corrupt practice for the purpose of the Act. The expression ‘bribery’ has been defined to mean any gift, offer or promise by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate or his election agent of any gratification with the object of inducing an elector as a reward to his candidature…” Mr Hansaria said.
“Thus, the promises made by the political party are nothing but a bribe within the meaning of Section 123 (1)(A) of the RP Act, 1951, which is a corrupt practice, and if other conditions mentioned in the said section are fulfilled, is a ground for declaring the election to be void under Section 100(1)(b) of the Act,” he added.
The hearing in the matter remained inconclusive and will continue on Thursday.
The Supreme Court had earlier directed listing before a three-judge bench petitions against the practice of political parties promising pre-election freebies, saying it appeared the issues raised before it require an “extensive” hearing.
It had noted there are certain preliminary issues that may need to be deliberated upon in these petitions. The issues included the scope of judicial intervention with respect to the reliefs sought in these petitions, whether any enforceable order can be passed by this court in these writ petitions and whether the appointment of a commission/expert body by the court would serve any purpose.
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