"Can Universal Healthcare Be Seen As Freebie?": Supreme Court Continues To Seek Definition

Promises alone aren't the basis of parties being elected, court says, in latest hearing of petition that demands bar on seeking votes for "freebies"

New Delhi:

The Supreme Court today asked what a "freebie" really means, among other observations, during a hearing in which it asked political parties to file their responses. The Centre, however, continued with its argument against "freebies" -- also defined as 'revdi' by Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- saying, "We are not opposed to socialism but if social welfare means distributing everything for free... then it's an immature understanding of the term."

This conflict, which has sparked a political and philosophical debate, is at the nub of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, who happens to be a BJP leader. He has opposed the practice of political parties promising free things and services. The Election Commission should cancel such parties' registration, his plea argues.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justice Krishna Murari, set the next hearing for Monday after asking all those party to the case to make their submissions in writing.

"Some say political parties cannot be prevented from making promises to the voters... Now, it has to be defined what is freebie," the bench observed. 

"[Can] universal healthcare, access to drinking water [...] be treated as freebies?" it added, also citing "schemes like MNREGA, which gives dignity of living". 

Promises alone aren't the basis of parties being elected, the court further said.

Yesterday, Tamil Nadu's ruling DMK asked the court to make it a party to the case, contending that the scope of the term "freebie" is wide and "there are a lot of aspects which need to be considered". Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, known for its thrust on providing free power and water, has also challenged the petition's stance.

The DMK petition said that in a welfare state, free services are introduced to secure social order and economic justice under the Constitution's Article 38 "to minimise the inequalities in income, status, facilities and opportunities".

The court has, at an earlier hearing, observed that freebies and social welfare schemes are two different things. Last week it also ruled out the possibility of considering a plea for de-recognising parties for making promises.

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