Our Legal Correspondent
NEW DELHI, Aug. 13: The Supreme Court today decided to examine if political parties could lure voters by promising freebies like colour televisions and computers at the cost of pubic funds.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Mr KG Balakrishnan and Justices Mr P Sathasivam and Mr JM Panchal issued notices to the Centre, Tamil Nadu and other states on a petition challenging the DMK government’s decision to distribute colour television sets in rural areas as promised by the party in its Assembly election manifesto. The freebies are likely to cost the state exchequer about Rs 2,400 crore. “We will examine the Constitutional question involved in the matter,” the bench said.
The scheme, a part of the DMK election manifesto for the 2006 Assembly election, has been challenged by a Madurai-based advocate, Mr S Subramaniam Balaji, contending that the entire exercise was “illegal gratification, aimed at unduly influencing the voters at the polls”.
The advocate approached the apex court after the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court declined to entertain his PIL.
According to the petitioner, he was not challenging government decisions such as reduction in bus fares for students in the state and free books to poor students but distribution of colour TVs cannot be justified under any circumstances.
Counsel for the petitioner contended that such promises which involved non-essential items serve no public purpose and a political party cannot be permitted to fulfil such electoral promises at the cost of public funds. “We have to draw a line somewhere, otherwise political parties will make it a practice to offer costly luxury items to lure voters and there will be no end to the exploitation of public funds for private purposes,” he contended, adding that rivals of the ruling party in the state had promised computers to every student after Class XII.
The judges of the bench, however, were earlier reluctant to entertain the petition as they agreed with Mr Justice Sathasivam’s point of view that colour TVs in villages cannot be termed non-essential as some TV programmes are educative and informative.
But after hearing the arguments of the petitioner’s counsel, the apex court decided to examine whether such free gifts during elections are permissible under Article 282 of the Constitution.
The state government has maintained that distribution of TV sets was to provide information to the people.