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The Landmark Judgement of Subramaniam Balaji Vs TN

Context

The Supreme Court referred to a three-judge Bench a series of petitions seeking a judicial direction that political parties who make wild promises of largesse should also reveal where they will get the money to pay for them in their election manifestos. The reference departs from the court’s position in the 2013 Subramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu decision.

Relevance

GS Paper 2: Government policies

Mains Question

Do you believe that populism, personality cults, and freebie culture in politics, as seen during elections in states such as Tamil Nadu, are beneficial to economic growth and development? Comment critically. (250 Words)


Constitutional and Statutory Provisions

  • Articles 324 to 329 of Part XV of the Indian Constitution contain provisions relating to the conduct of free and fair elections in India.
  • These provisions gave Parliament the authority to enact legislation to govern the electoral process.
  • In order to implement these provisions, Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act, 1950, and the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Representation of the People Act, 1950

  • The Representation of the People Act of 1950 addresses the following aspects of the electoral process:
    • Voter qualification.
    • Creating electoral rolls.
    • Constituency delimitation
    • Seat allocation in Parliament and state legislatures.

1951 Representation of the People Act

  • The RP Act 1951 was passed prior to the first general election. The act mandates the holding of elections in India.
  • It addresses the following election issues:
    • Actual election conduct;
    • Administrative machinery for conducting elections; o Poll;
    • Election offences;
    • Election disputes;
    • By-elections;
    • Registration of political parties.

Corruption, as defined by the RP Act of 1951

  • Section 123 of the RP Act 1951 defines corrupt electoral practises. The following practises have been identified as corrupt:
  • Bribery is defined as any gift, offer, promise, or gratification given to another person as a motive or reward.
    • Undue influence – any interference or attempt to interfere with the free exercise of any electoral right, whether direct or indirect.
    • Spreading hatred – Spreading feelings of enmity or hatred among different classes of citizens on the basis of religion, race, caste, community, or language.
    • Providing false information – The publication of any statement of fact that is false in relation to any candidate’s personal character or conduct, or in relation to the candidature.
    • Vehicle hiring – The hiring or procuring of any vehicle for the free transportation of any elector to or from any polling station.
    • Incurring or authorising expenditure in excess of the approved limit is also a corrupt process.
  • The Supreme Court ruled in the 2013 Balaji case that making promises in election manifestos does not constitute a corrupt practise under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act (RP).
  • As a result, the Supreme Court has decided to reconsider the Balaji decision.

The 2013 Judgment’s Highlights

  • The Supreme Court ruled that: o It would be deceptive to conclude that all promises in the election manifesto amounted to corrupt practise.
    • A political party’s manifesto is a statement of its policy.
    • The question of manifesto implementation arises only if the political party forms a government.
  • The court agreed, however, that freebies create an uneven playing field.
  • It had requested that the Election Commission of India consult with political parties and issue guidelines on election manifestos, which would be included in the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

The significance of the current Supreme Court decision to review the 2013 judgement

  • Fiscal burden and associated concerns
    • The court anticipates that freebies will lead to a situation in which the state government will be unable to provide basic amenities due to a lack of funds, pushing the state into bankruptcy.
  • The court wants a transparent debate before the three-judge Bench on whether an enforceable judicial order can prevent political parties from promising and distributing irrational freebies.
  • One-of-a-kind o This case is one-of-a-kind because the Supreme Court is investigating whether judicial parameters can be imposed on a purely political act of promising freebies.

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September 2022
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