SCNEW DELHI: Freebies promised by political parties in their election manifestos shake the roots of free and fair polls; the Supreme Court today said and directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines for regulating contents of manifestos.

A bench of justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said though the election manifesto is published before the code of conduct comes into force, the Commission can make an exception by bringing it within the code of conduct.

The judgment can have wide ramifications and can put a curb on political parties promising different types of freebies like distributing laptops, TVs, grinders and mixers, electric fans, four gram gold thali and free food grains if voted to power.

“There is no guideline for regulating the contents of election manifesto. We direct the Election Commission to frame guidelines on it,” the bench said.

“We direct election commission to take up the task (of framing guidelines) immediately,” it said.

The apex court also said that separate legislation should be made on this issue.

It said freebies promised by political parties disturb the level playing field among players contesting the polls and vitiates the election process.

The bench, however, dismissed the plea challenging J Jayalalithaa government’s decision to implement AIADMK’s poll promise of free household items to voters, saying that under the present law, promises of freebies made in the manifesto do not amount to corrupt practices.
The petition was filed by an advocate S Subramaniam Balaji, challenging the state’s decision to distribute freebies.

According to the petitioner, competitive populism resorted to by political parties was unconstitutional besides being a huge drain on the state exchequer.

The petitioner had contended that freebies offered by the Tamil Nadu government amounted to bribing the voters and ran counter to the constitutional mandate of free and fair elections. –PTI