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Delhi High Court issues notice to Centre, ECI on plea seeking to declare offer of cash transfer in election manifestos as corrupt practice

The Bench raised a query as to whether ECI is vested with the power to take actions against a political party which is found to have followed corrupt practices during elections; however the counsel sought time to seek instructions on the same.

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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday sought the response from the Centre and the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a plea seeking directions to declare the offer of cash transfer in election manifestos by political parties as a corrupt electoral practice.

The Division Bench led by Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh issued notice on a plea filed by two lawyers, wherein it was alleged that the practice of offering freebies as part of electoral promises could sway away a vast majority of electorates.

Senior Counsel Soumya Chakraborty, representing petitioners, informed the Bench that a similar petition was moved before the Delhi High Court in 2019, which was dismissed with liberty granted to the petitioners to take up the issue after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Appearing for the ECI, Advocate Anjana Gossain informed the Bench that the Commission has already issued guidelines governing corrupt practices adopted during the elections by political parties, in furtherance of directions given by the Apex Court. 

The Bench raised a query as to whether the ECI is vested with power to take actions against a political party, which is found to have followed corrupt practices during elections; however, the Counsel sought time to seek instructions on the same.

The Bench orally asked the ECI as to why no action has been taken to prevent such practices, despite there being a categorical direction by the Apex Court. “Powers are not ornaments. You (ECI) use your powers for the welfare of public at large…Start taking actions. Don’t issue orders and directions,” remarked the Court and slated the matter for September 24.

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The petition has been filed by Parashar Narayan Sharma and Capt Gurvinder Singh, thorough Advocate Amardeep Maini. The plea pointed out instances from 2019 Lok Sabha elections, whereby political parties offered illegal gratification as part of their election manifestos.

It is claimed that the Indian National Congress promised to pay Rs 72,000 per annum to five crore poor families under its proposed scheme named ‘Nyuntam Aay Yojana’ (NYAY). Similarly, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) promised to pay Rs two lakh per annum to poor families in the state of Andhra Pradesh. 

Calling the said promises as ‘Note for Vote’, the plea alleged that if such practices are not monitored, it could strike a ‘deathblow to the very foundation of the largest democracy of the world’.

Relying on the decision of Apex Court in the case of S. Subramaniam Balaji vs State of Tami Nadu, wherein the Court directed the ECI to frame guidelines governing the contents of election manifestos of political parties, the plea highlighted that a representation was made before the ECI. However, no action was taken upon the representation.

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In light of the above, the plea sought declaration that election manifestos promising transfer of cash in pursuance of any scheme which would provide an opportunity to earn in exchange of labour or any kind of productivity being unknown to the Directive Principles of State Policy, is ultravires of the Constitution.

“If freebies, particularly wanton cash benefits, are allowed to be offered as part of electoral promises, vast majority of electorate would be swayed away from dignity of labour and consequently, the economy, industry and agriculture of the nation would be destroyed completely,”

-mentioned the plea.

“Political parties should avoid making those promises, which are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise,” it added.

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