In a hugely significant development with far reaching consequences, the Madras High Court has just recently on March 31, 2021 in a brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment titled M Chandramohan (M/48/2020) vs The Secretary, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and 4 Others in W.P.(MD).No.18733 of 2020 and W.M.P.No.15646 of 2020 has sought to make it absolutely clear without mincing any words that political parties should be prohibited or prevented from giving election promises, which are capable of adding burden on the public exchequer. This was the crying need of the hour also as such tall poll promises are a huge burden on the public exchequer and most of them are practically impossible to implement and even if implemented, it does our economy in the longer run no good! We all see in different states how competitive rat race breaks out among different political parties just before elections making tall promises which if viewed practically are just not feasible to implement. Even political parties themselves making such tall promises know it fully well but they also do it just to garner votes as they fully know that once elected to power they cannot be bound by their poll promises and it is at their own sweet will that what poll promises they want to fulfill and what they don’t want to fulfill!
It has to be mentioned right at the outset that the prayer made in the petition states that, “Petition under Article 226 of Constitution of India praying for issuance of Writ of Mandamus directing the 1st and 2nd respondents to consider the Petitioner’s representation dated 13.07.2020 and further direct the respondents to convert Vasudevanallur Assembly Constituency in Tamil Nadu as General Constituency by enabling all the communities of the Society to be candidate in the upcoming election to uphold the spirit of the Constitution of India.”
Justice N Kirubakaran who has authored this notable judgment for himself and Justice B Pugalendhi of Madras High Court sets the ball rolling in the most brilliant manner in para 1 wherein he puts forth forthrightly that, “[“We will cook food for you in your residence” – Party “We will not only cook, but also feed you” – Opposite party] Time is not too far away to hear the aforesaid promises from competing political parties. It is raining freebies for Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. Each party tries to undo each other in terms of populist promises. If one party promises monthly assistance of Rs.1,000/- to women households heads, there is a counter freebies of Rs.1,500/-. It goes on. The result is people started having a mind set that they could make a living out of freebies. A trend has been created that whoever avails loan from banks, does not repay the loan, expecting waiver of loans during election. In this way, people themselves get corrupted by political parties. The way in which the political parties throw their promises, which are unreasonable and unworkable are really unwanted. Unfortunately, freebies are not connected with job creation, development, or agriculture. Voters are lured to cast votes in their favour by these magical promises. Once in 5 years, this tamasha is being continued for decades together. Promises have always remained as promises. Most of them except freebies are not implemented.”
While stating the true purpose of making tall promises, the Bench then reveals in para 2 that, “Every political party is bound to make promises to voters giving their social policies and plans for improving the standard of living of the people by providing clean governance, infrastructure, especially, providing basic amenities like, water, transportation and health, which are expected in every democracy. However, the election promises made by the political parties are aimed at clinching power.”
While elaborating further, it is then stated in para 3 that, “If the basic amenities are promised and provided, there cannot be any objection and in fact, it has to be welcomed and appreciated. In the name of social security all the basic needs of the people have been provided by giving colour televisions, laptops, mixers, fans and grinders etc. Moreover, in Tamil Nadu every family card holder is given free rice of 20 kilograms every month. That apart, during festival seasons, like, Pongal and Diwali, public money is drained by way of providing expenses for celebrations of festivals. In fact, the celebrations are being taken care by the Government by providing free dhoties, sarees and items necessary for cooking and making pongal and expenses for celebrations. These kinds of freebies and money given during festivals, though it would be justified that the Government is taking care of the peoples’ needs, in fact are making the people lazy and dampens the working culture of the people. In the process, the honest tax payer is made a mute spectator of these expenditure by the Government. Consequently, even for any normal work no force is available in Tamil Nadu and Tamil Nadu has to depend on the migrant workers from northeast and northern states, like, Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam, Bihar, Uttra Pradesh and West Bengal and Odisha. Most of the North Indian workers are doing agriculture work and working in hotels, industries, shops, saloons, etc. in Tamil Nadu.”
While continuing further in a similar vein, it is then envisaged in para 4 that, “It is not as if everyone in Tamil Nadu have become an entrepreneur or persons with resources and if we go into details, most of the persons including wealthy are expecting freebies. Engineering Graduates, M.Phil, M.B.A. Degreeholders are applying for sweeper posts and O.A. posts. Nobody wants to do manual job. It is reported in media that people who go for 100 days work, (MNREGA), which has been brought by the Government to give work for people, simply chit chatting under trees without doing the work. The way in which things are happening today, one would not be surprised to see that migrant workers would be owners of the properties in due course and the sons of the soil will become workers working under them and it may be the only achievement, probably, the political parties have attained through election promises by providing freebies for the past 20 years.”
On a practical note, it is then observed in para 5 that, “This Court is aware that the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the case of of S.Subramaniam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu and Others reported in (2013) 9 SCC 659 held that promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as “corrupt practice” and these measures relate to implementation of Directive Principles of State Policy. However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to verify election manifestos of all political parties. If there is an external agency, which examines all manifestos to weed out the unreasonable and unexecutable ones. Definitely, that will go a long way to curtail the political parties from making promises of moon or star. Unless some mechanism is put into place, the political party would try to buy out the voters by hook or crook as their aim is only to ascend to power. Normally, the political parties are expected to make election promises providing basic amenities, like, education, health care facilities, transportation and generation of employment and not necessarily Government employment.”
Alarmingly, it is then laid bare in para 6 that, “Though political parties cry for rights, they never bother educating about the corresponding duties and it is also one of the dangerous trends to be addressed. All the political parties, are expected to behave reasonably or offer political promises, which are helpful for overall development of the society instead of having an adverse effect on the people.”
In context of Tamil Nadu, it is then stated in para 7 that, “The aforesaid observations became necessary in view of the state of affairs in Tamil Nadu. In that scenario only, the present Writ Petition has come up before this Court, seeking writ of mandamus directing the first and second respondent to consider the Petitioner’s representation dated 13.07.2020 and further direct the Respondents to convert “Vasudevanallur Assembly Constituency” in Tamil Nadu as general Constituency by enabling all the communities of the society to be candidate in the upcoming election to uphold the spirit of the Constitution of India.”
More to the point with regard to petitioner’s petition, it is then laid bare in para 8 that, “The Petitioner has stated that he filed this Public Interest Litigation to convert “Vasudevanallur Legislative Assembly constituency”, which is a reserved constituency, as a general constituency to enable all the sections of people to contest the election. Vasudevanallur Legislative Assembly constituency remains as reserved constituency, since 1976, for the past 44 years and because of that, the representation is restricted to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes people only and other sections of people are deprived of their right to contest and get elected as Member of Legislative Assembly.”
Needless to say, the Bench then concedes in para 24 that, “.This Court is aware that the issue of freebies has been raised before the Hon’ble Apex Court in the case of S.Subramaniam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu and Others reported in (2013) 9 Supreme Court Cases 659, after the Public Interest Litigation filed by S. Subramaniam Balaji before the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court came to be dismissed. The Hon’ble Apex Court held that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as “corrupt practice” as described under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. However, the Hon’ble Apex Court further opined that the reality cannot be ruled out that the distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly influences all the people. Further, the Hon’ble Apex Court directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines with regard to the contents of the election manifesto in consultation with all the recognized political parties.”
It cannot be glossed over that it is then disclosed in para 25 that, “As per the direction of the Hon’ble Apex Court, the Election Commission called a meeting of all recognized political parties and discussed the issue of framing guidelines for election manifesto of political parties. Since majority of the political parties opposed the idea of framing any guidelines for manifestos, the Election Commission issued guidelines dated 19.02.2014 to be adhered by the political parties and candidates while releasing their election manifestos for election to Parliament or State legislatures. The said guidelines have been incorporated as Part VIII of the Model Code of Conduct and the same reads as follows:
“(i) The election manifesto shall not contain anything repugnant to the ideals and principles enshrined in the Constitution and further that it shall be consistent with the letter and spirit of other provisions of Model Code.
(ii) The Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Constitution enjoin upon the State to frame various welfare measures for the citizens and therefore there can be no objection to the promise of such welfare in election manifesto. However, 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.
(iii) In the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, it is expected that manifesto also reflect the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirement for it. Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled.””
Be it noted, it is then stated in para 29 that, “Once the Hon’ble Supreme Court opined that freebies vitiates the purity of election process and influence the voters, it should be deemed to be a corrupt practice. It is not as if offers of money or kind to influence the voters by candidates, alone can become corrupt practice and the political parties which in whole sale manner offer or lure by promising freebies to the people to vote for their respective party to power, cannot be construed as corrupt practice. Whether it is done by an individual or by a party, it is definitely a bribery or corrupt practice. Our democracy has stooped down to such a level that time has come to bring the political parties which offer freebies to influence the voters for picking up votes also, within the scope of Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act.”
Frankly speaking, it is then pointed out in para 30 that, “The election manifestos were not that much popular about 30 years ago and only for the past two decades they have became very popular among the masses, as the political parties compete with each other offering free gifts and freebies in various forms and kinds, promising them better development, social upliftment and comfortable life during their regime if they are voted to power. Whether the development is achieved or not, the freebies only achieved in creating/inculcating laziness among the people, shattering the work culture of the State. Consequently, no labour or sufficient labour is available and no work is done in the State, without the imported migrant labourers from other States. As observed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the Election Manifesto is the road map to the policies of the political parties to show as to how they intend to govern the State or Country and what are all the infrastructures to be developed and other incidental ideas. Indeed, it is a welcome one. However, unfortunately the political parties are at best concentrating only on freebies to get the voters by hook or crook in their craving for winning the elections. This has to be stopped as otherwise, there shall be no distinction between the enthusiastic work force and those who sit back and enjoy the freebies without doing anything.”
It is worth noting that it is then stated in para 31 that, “The object of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is extracted as follows:
“An Act to provide for the conduct of elections to the Houses of Parliament and to the House or Houses of the Legislature of each State, the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of those Houses, the corrupt practices and other offences at or in connection with such elections and the decision of doubts and disputes arising out of or in connection with such elections.”
From the above it is clear that the Act is also to rule out corrupt practice and other offences in connection with the elections. Though many amendments have been brought and the last one is in the year 2009, only when the freebies are wiped out from the election manifesto by making them as “corrupt practices” by political parties under Section 123 of Representation of People Act 1952 , the election process can be free and fair and there can be a level playing field for all the political parties equally. Whenever the Court observes and indicates the necessity for bringing out a separate legislation or amendment in the existing Act, the Parliamentary or State Legislature has to take it very seriously and pursue the issue properly by bringing a new legislation or amendment, as suggested by the Court. However, even after eight years of judgment of the Hon’ble Apex Court in the case of S.Subramaniam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu and Others reported in (2013) 9 SCC 659, nothing has been done to bring a new legislation or amendment governing political parties and election manifestos and only the election commission alone came forward and issued guidelines to the political parties.”
More significantly, it is then disclosed in para 32 that, “In view of that, the above queries are raised. Mrs.Victoria Gouri, Learned Counsel takes notice on behalf of the First and Second Respondents. Mr.Niranjan Rajagopal, learned Counsel takes notice on behalf of the Third Respondent. Mr.Muthu Geetheiyan, learned Special Government Pleader for the Fourth Respondent, Mr.Chella Pandian, learned Additional Advocate General takes notice on behalf of the Fifth Respondent. The respondents shall answer to the following queries raised by 24.04.2021.
(1) Whether the Central Government has taken any steps to bring legislation covering the issue of political manifestos, especially freebies promised in the election manifestos and governing the political parties as per the Judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of S.Subramaniam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu and Others reported in (2013) 9 Supreme Court Cases 659?
(2) In how many elections the Election Commission has vetted the election manifestos of the political parties as per the dictum of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the case of S. Subramaniam Balaji v. State of Tamil Nadu and Others reported in (2013) 9 Supreme Court Cases 659?
(3) If so, which are all the political parties which have submitted their election manifestos for vetting during elections, after 2014?
(4) What are the actions taken against those political parties, which have not followed the dictum of the Hon’ble Supreme Court to tender the manifestos for vetting before the Election Commission?
(5) In how many manifestos of the political parties, the Election Commission has made objections regarding the statements or promises made?
(6) Whether based on the objections such disputed or controversial promises have been deleted by political parties?
(7) If so which party’s manifestos have been objected and have been deleted?
(8) Why not political parties be liable to pay at least 10% of the money involved for implementation of election promises made by them while implementing the same after they come to power to infuse a sense of responsibility to the political parties?
(9) Why not the Respondents sensitize the political parties not to make any unreasonable and unfair promises, which, if implemented would drain the public exchequer unnecessarily /unreasonably?
(10) Why not the Respondents prohibit the political parties from giving social security schemes which are capable of shattering work culture and making people lazy?
(11) Whether the political parties give in the manifestos itself about the political promises and provision for resources available, in case if they come to power along with experts opinion?
(12) Why not the Respondents direct the political parties to make the political promise, especially, with regard to the freebies in accordance with the resources of the State?
(13) Why not the Respondents monitor and verify as to whether the election promises are complied with during the tenure of the political party, which is elected to form the Government?
(14) Why not the Respondents prohibit the political parties from making any promises, which cannot be implemented by the State Government, as they are beyond the powers of state Governments. i.e., waiver of loans given by the nationalized bank, etc.,?
(15) Whether the Respondents have got details about the political promises, which have been implemented by the political parties, when they came to power at least in the past 4 elections to Legislative Assemblies and Parliament elections?
(16) How much was spent by the respective Government, especially, Tamil Nadu to translate the election promises into reality by giving the details thereof (from 2001 election onwards)?
(17) Why not Election Commission of India de-recognize those election parties, who fail to implement their political promises based on which the voters are lured and the parties are elected to form the Government?
(18) When the political parties ascend the throne by promises which were believed by the voters and voted, and the promises are foundation of the Government, why not the respondents make election promises as enforceable?
(19) When will the Union Government bring an amendment of Section 123 of Representation of People’s Act 1952, to include “political parties” which could be charged for “corrupt practices”?
(20) Why not the constituency with next highest population of Scheduled Caste (SC) population be made as reserved constituency by rotation without decreasing the constituency meant for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes?”
Most significantly, what forms the bottom-line of this notable and extremely laudable judgment is then stated elegantly, eloquently and effectively in para 33 that, “Though this Court is aware that the political promises cannot be implemented as per the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, much water has flown under the bridge. Practically, people are floated with attractive promises and they are convinced by these promises to vote a particular party to form Government and many of the promises make big dent on the public exchequer. If money spent for freebies are utilized constructively by creating job opportunities, by building infrastructure, like, dams, lakes, providing better facilities and incentives to the agriculture, which has become an orphan in our country as most of the people have quit agriculture as cultivation does not provide a secured income, definitely, there will be social upliftment and progress of the State. The political parties should be prohibited or prevented from giving election promises, which are capable of adding burden on the public exchequer, especially, the State is facing financial crunch. Otherwise, for the sake of finance, the State has to increase the number of liquor shops.”
Finally and no less significantly, it is then held in the concluding para 34 that, “It is stated that every candidate has to shell out about Rs.20 crores in the election to an assembly constituency, as many of the people have become corrupt by selling their votes for one or a few thousands, Briyani and Quarter bottle. It is the stark reality. If that is so, how could the people expect good leaders?
Do people who sell their votes, have any moral right to question their leaders?
This Court could only recall the words of Joseph de Maistre, “In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve”.”
To conclude, there is just no need to add more. If our country truly abide by what is held in this extremely straightforward judgment then it will do our nation a world of good in all senses! No country in world can stop India from progressing, prospering and becoming the most powerful country in the world if our political parties strictly abide by what is held in this most brilliant judgment by a two Judge Bench of the Madras High Court which is also one of the oldest High Courts of India and similarly people also adhere to what has been laid down in this notable judgment! No denying it!