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S. Subramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu judgment


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 in their poll manifestos where they will get the money to pay for them.

  • The reference is a shift from the court’s own stand in the S. Subramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu judgment of 2013.


GS II: Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About  Balaji case judgment:
  2. What triggered the Balaji case?
  3. Why is the Court’s move to review the Balaji judgment significant?

About  Balaji case judgment:

  • In the Balaji case judgment, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court had held that making promises in election manifestos do not amount to a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of the Representation of People Act (RP).
  • However, the Supreme Court is now worried that freebies promised by political parties to win elections could bleed the public exchequer dry.
  • The Court said that parties who form the government riding the wave created by their pre-poll promises of “free gifts” are bleeding the State finances dry by actually trying to fulfil their outlandish promises using public money.
  • The Supreme Court has therefore decided to revisit the Balaji verdict.

What triggered the Balaji case?

  • The course of events started in 2006, during the run-up to the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections.
  • The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) released its election manifesto announcing a scheme of free distribution of colour television sets (CTVs) to “each and every household” which did not have one if the party was voted to power.
  • The party justified that the TV would “provide recreation and general knowledge to household women, more particularly, those living in the rural areas”.
  • The party swept to power in the polls and decided to implement its scheme and portioned off ₹750 crore from the budget for the project.
  • The government finally distributed 30,000 TV sets across the State.
  • In 2011, rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and its alliance also announced its election manifesto with free gifts to “equalise” the gifts offered by the DMK.
  • AIADMK promised grinders, mixies, electric fans, laptop computers, four gram gold thalis, a cheque of ₹50,000 for women’s marriage, green houses, 20 kg of rice to ration card holders (even to those above the poverty line) and free cattle and sheep.
  •  Mr. Balaji, a resident of Tamil Nadu, challenged the schemes introduced by the parties in the Madras High Court.
    • He said the expenditure to be incurred by the State from the exchequer was “unauthorised, impermissible and ultra vires the constitutional mandates”.
  • The High Court dismissed his case, following which he had moved the apex court.

Why is the Court’s move to review the Balaji judgment significant?

  • In its order, the court foresees that “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”.
  • The court said it wants a transparent debate before the three-judge Bench on whether an “enforceable” judicial order can stop political parties from promising and distributing ‘irrational freebies’.
  • The case is unique as the Supreme Court is exploring whether judicial parameters can be set on a purely political act of promising freebies.

-Source: The Hindu


March 2024