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Congress claims EC has no jurisdiction to regulate issues like freebies, asks panel to ensure fair polls

Congress on freebies: The grand old party urged the Elections Commission to rather focus on conducting free and fair elections by properly implementing election laws.

Anurag Roushan Edited By: Anurag Roushan New Delhi Updated on: October 28, 2022 17:18 IST
Congress claims EC has no jurisdiction to regulate issues
Image Source : PTI Congress claims EC has no jurisdiction to regulate issues like freebies

Highlights

  • Congress urged the Election Commission to focus on conducting free and fair elections
  • Earlier this month, the EC had proposed revising the model code of conduct
  • The EC had also written letter to political parties seeking ideas on the proposal

Congress on freebies: Ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, the Congress on Friday stated that the Elections Commission (EC) does not have the authority to regulate issues like freebies.

The grand old party also urged the EC to rather focus on conducting free and fair elections by properly implementing election laws. 

On October 4, the poll panel proposed revising the model code to require political parties to inform voters honestly about the financial sustainability of their poll promises. This proposal came in the midst of the freebies vs welfare measures discussion, which had sparked a political brawl. 

The Congress party argued that such concerns are a necessary part of the dialectics of a healthy democratic system and depend on the intelligence, judgement, and analysis of the electorate, which should never be regarded as anything less than acute. 

"It is really something which is to be decided, be it pre-election or post-election, be it by way of electoral punishment or electoral acceptance and reward that the electorate decides the wisdom of such poll promises or campaign assurances and equally decides their breach and non-compliance," Congress general secretary communications Jairam Ramesh wrote to the Election Commission (EC).

"Neither the Election Commission, nor the government, nor indeed even the courts, have jurisdiction to justiciate and regulate such issues.

It would therefore be best for the commission to desist from doing so," he added. 

EC sought political parties' responses on freebies

The EC had previously stated that empty poll promises have significant impacts and that it cannot ignore the detrimental effects that incomplete disclosure of election promises has on financial viability. In a letter, the commission had requested inputs on the idea by October 19 from all recognised national and state parties.

Addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said the matter first propped up when Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 16 raised the issue of freebies, after which the poll panel took up the issue and wrote to parties seeking their response.

She said the debate on the issue of freebies in a democracy is distorted as it is the duty of any government to take care of the poor and oppressed classes, and evolve schemes for their upliftment.

Congress in its response to the EC proposal has said that "the issue does not fall under the poll body's jurisdiction" and asked, "how can the Election Commission decide on the definition of freebies". "It should first implement the existing poll laws properly and there are more burning issues that need to be taken care," she said.

In the party's response to the EC, Ramesh noted that the commission has in the past demonstrated great wisdom and restraint in the exercise of this power, choosing to circumscribe and limit campaign actions which tilt the field in favour of one party over the other. However, such power has always been exercised and guided by the statutory context.

In other words, electoral offences outlined in Chapter IXA of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, help the commission determine what is per se legal and illegal," he said.

In fact, the specific bans on communal rhetoric, hate speech, and undue influence, among others, all flow from these statutes, Ramesh noted. "Thus, if the ECI were to consider such a ban it would necessarily need to pass parliamentary muster first," he added.

Furthermore, even in Part VIII of the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates, 2015, the ECI puts forth general guidelines which essentially call for making campaign promises in a responsible manner," he said.
 
Ramesh also insisted that Congress be given an appropriate slot any time in the future so as to elaborate on these and other grounds before the commission.

(With PTI inputs)

Also Read: SC panel on freebies expected to fix band of 1% of state tax collections for expenditure on welfare schemes

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