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Can Universal Healthcare, Access to Drinking Water Be Treated as ‘Freebies’: SC

A bench headed by CJI NV Ramana also noted that it cannot prevent political parties from making pre-poll promises.

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Can Universal Healthcare, Access to Drinking Water Be Treated as ‘Freebies’: SC
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 17 August, questioned whether universal healthcare, access to drinking water, and access to consumer electronics be treated as freebies.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana also noted that it cannot prevent political parties from making pre-election promises, reported Bar&Bench.

"The question is what qualifies as a freebie. Can we describe the promise of free education, some essential units of power as freebies? There has to be debate and discussion," the CJI said, adding that such promises alone do not get parties elected.

Notably, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has also moved SC over the matter is known for promising and offering free water, electricity and education at the states where it gets elected.

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The apex court made these remarks while hearing a plea filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The plea had challenged the "freebie culture" and asked the SC to direct concerned authorities to regulate such actions of political parties.

The SC has adjourned the further hearing of the case till Monday, 22 August. Stating that the concern was about spending the public money in the right way, the apex court asked the stakeholders to submit their suggestions by Saturday, 20 August, reported ANI.

Earlier, the SC had asked the Centre and the Election Commission (EC) to adopt guidelines to regulate the "serious issue" of "freebies." The panel of the EC, however, responded to the apex court saying it cannot regulate the "freebie culture," as there was no law that empowers it to do so.

DMK Challenges Definition of 'Freebies' in the SC, Calls Them 'Welfare Schemes'

Meanwhile, MK Stalin-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), ruling party in Tamil Nadu, had on Tuesday, 16 August, moved Supreme Court in the ongoing case regarding freebies doled out by political parties during election time. The DMK has also sought to be impleaded as a respondent in the case.

Challenging the definition of freebies, the DMK contended that its "scope is very wide and there are lots of aspects to be considered." The party said in its plea, "Only a welfare scheme introduced by state government cannot be classified as freebie."

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The move by the DMK comes days after Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had approached SC in the case with arguments similar to that of the Dravidian party.

'Freebies Are Given To Secure Social Order, Economic Justice': DMK

The DMK in its petition further contended that the apex court cannot have a restrictive approach for classifying any scheme or act by the Union/state legislature to be a "freebie" without considering the magnitude of resultant consequences and social welfare at both micro and macro level.

"The ruling government at the Union giving tax holidays to foreign companies, waiver of bad loans of influential industrialists, granting crucial contracts to favoured conglomerates etc., also have to be considered and cannot be left untouched," the petition said, reported IANS.

DMK's plea also noted that the welfare scheme providing a free service is introduced with an intent to secure a social order and economic justice under Article 38 to minimise the inequalities in income, status, facilities and opportunities and in no imaginable reality, it could be construed as a "freebie."
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"Such schemes have been introduced in order to provide basic necessities which the poor households cannot afford. They cannot be imputed to be luxuries. Schemes such as free electricity can have a multi-dimensional effect on a poor household. Electricity can provide lighting, heating and cooling resulting in a better standard of living. It can facilitate a child in his education and studies," DMK's plea stated.

"The Constitution empowers the State Governments under the Concurrent and State Lists to promulgate welfare schemes. Therefore, the term 'freebies' cannot be interpreted in such a way which interferes with the State's competence under the Schedule VII," it added

Promising "freebies" ahead of election has been a norm followed by almost all political parties in Tamil Nadu, since decades. Some of the well known schemes brought in by the DMK include the distribution of free colour TV sets to the underprivileged, free bus passes to women, and AIADMK's free laptop and bicycle scheme for school students, and 'Amma Canteens,' introduced by late former Chief Minister J Jayalalitha.

(With inputs from Bar&Bench, IANS, ANI.)

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Edited By :Tejas Harad
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