Socialist Agenda Is Built Into The Constitution - AAP Approaches SC Opposing PIL Against Freebies By Political Parties
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has approached the Supreme Court by filing an intervention application opposing a PIL filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking to control the use of 'Freebies' by political parties in order to solicit votes.
The application states that schemes for the socio-economic welfare of the deserving and disadvantaged masses cannot be described as 'Freebies.'
"..a socialist and welfarist economic agenda is built into the Constitution of India by way of the Preamble and the Directive Principles of State Policy and is, therefore, the constitutional mandate of any elected government", AAP says in its application.
AAP enumerates its policies which, according to it, cannot be categorized as freebies and are constitutional responsibilities of the State:
1. Construction and maintenance of canteens for provision of free or subsidized cooked food to the working poor;
2. Construction and maintenance of night shelters and housing for the poor;
3. Provision of free or subsidized portable water for drinking and other domestic uses up to a certain quantity;
4. Provision of free or subsidised electricity for domestic use of small households so they are not overly burdened;
5. Provision of free or subsidised basic and even advanced healthcare;
6. Provision of free or subsidised education minimally up to the age of 14 as per Article 21 of the Constitution, and ideally thereafter as well;
7. Provision of free or subsidised skill-development and vocational training programmes for empowering the youth and reducing unemployment, which has been an increasing problem over the last few years;
8. Provision of free or subsidised rations and other food materials to sections of the society that cannot afford it for themselves;
9. Provision of mid-day meal schemes in government schools to encourage enrolment and improve nutritional levels among children;
10. Provision of free or subsidised public transportation, particularly for women and other classes of persons in need of better representation in the employment sector;
11. Provision of direct cash benefits to vulnerable classes of persons, such as to young school students belonging to classes typically under-represented in the educational system;
12. Provision of livelihood to persons rendered unemployed for a variety of structural reasons; and
13. Provision of capital assets such as sewing machines or bicycles for women or young girls to empower them to pursue livelihood or education.
AAP states in the Petition that this merely illustrative list of schemes that have radically transformed the lives of the weaker sections of society and that have been callously labelled 'freebies' by the Petitioner, are absolutely essential in an unequal society such as ours. To describe them as 'freebies', despite their immense social utility and their impact on both the social and economic development of the country, is not just incorrect, but also an affront to our constitutional project, AAP says.
The intervention so filed states, "The Petition, while referring vaguely to 'freebies', clearly seeks judicial action against a particular model of economic development by exclusively targeting fiscal expenditure on socialist and welfarist measures for the masses."
AAP has also suggested in the intervention that if greater fiscal responsibility is to be enforced the Court and another stake holder must first rationalize the Freebies given to the Political and Governing Class as well as to big industrial houses. The application states, "If the idea is resource conservation within the nation, then the beginning point of that should not be the deserving masses who are constitutionally entitled to support in attaining a dignified standard of living, but the political and governing class which has, in the past and even now, been a significant beneficiary of the State's largesse, through, inter alia, free housing in prime areas of national and state capitals, given to Ministers/Members of Parliament/civil servants, etc."
If a discussion has to take place on "freebies" and their connection to fiscal health of the country, then the discussion has to be first in respect of what is being given to politicians, ministers, members of parliament and legislative assemblies, the Petition states.
The intervention application filed by the party which is the ruling government in the National Capital Territory of Delhi and in the State of Punjab states that "the present petition is not an instance of non-partisan litigation made in general public interest shorn of any personal or political motives."
Further, the Petition states that the petitioner Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay has strong links to the Bhartiya Janta Party. It is also stated that the Petitioner has been on the receiving end of the criticism of the Supreme Court for filing frivolous petitions in the Court. Questioning the intent of the Petitioner the intervention application states that he is trying to use the device of public interest litigation to camouflage a thinly veiled attempt at furthering a particular political agenda.
The intervention application points out that, "Articles 39 and 41 of the Constitution expressly espouse numerous principles that are the soul and spirit of what the Petitioner has casually and stigmatically labeled 'freebies'; redistribution of wealth, right to adequate means of livelihood, access to publicly-funded educational and healthcare institutions, right to adequate nutrition, and more generally, protection from any 'undeserved wants' particularly for the weaker classes, are all built into our constitutional polity. Though the Directive Principles of State Policy are not judicially enforceable, they are nevertheless significant goalposts for governance and policymaking by elected governments."
AAP in the intervention states that "Even if the undercurrent of political and ideological motives that inform this Petition are ignored, and its concern with fiscal responsibility is taken at face value, it is relevant to remember that fiscal issues are both complex and contingent on geography and time and are thus unamenable to strait-jacketed or binary solutions that any litigation may throw up."
The application also stated that litigation is unsuited to incorporating the polyvocal concerns that any democratic budgeting must account for. The application went on to state that the kind of issues the petitioner has raised is selective and myopic and in the realm of elected legislatures.
Yesterday another intervention application was filed in the matter on behalf of Adv. Vijay Sardana stating that due to the mismanagement of the taxes collected and freebies offered to the citizens for political gains, many states that can do wonders are suffering. He also stated that freebies are a major misuse of the public fund generated from the revenue collected from the average taxpayers.
Citing the example of Delhi he stated in the application that, "the per capita of Delhi is more than Rs. 4.0 lakh and still free bus tickets are offered whereas the same state government is unable to ensure proper healthcare and education to citizens and unable to fund the metro rail projects so that these public utilities can be completed ahead of schedule to save the environment." He also stated that free transport and free distribution of electricity has led to the collapse of two public sector enterprises with accumulated losses of these corporation being more than Rs. 37,000 crores.
He also cited the example of Punjab and stated that irreparable loss is being caused to the environment due to the freebies, he stated that, "The live example is Punjab where free electricity has incentivised the exploitation of groundwater and converted the one very fertile land into an area of serious concern due to depleted groundwater table."
He also pointed out that, "The states which are claiming they have funds to meet these freebies are in fact seeking grant-in-aid from the Union government to fund their budget deficiencies." He has suggested some objectives which may be created to prevent freebies as well.
Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay had filed a PIL seeking a direction to seize the election symbol or de-register a political party that promises or distributes irrational freebies from public funds before elections. The plea seeks a total ban on such populist measures to gain undue political favor from voters as they violate the Constitution and the ECI should take suitable deterrent measures.
Earlier, the Court had observed that it is a serious issue. The Bench of CJI NV Ramana, Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Hima Kohli held that all the stakeholders should be involved in the process of brainstorming and come to some solutions to the issue.
The Court directed parties to make suggestions regarding the constitution of the body.