Freebies promised by political parties in their election manifestos shake the roots of free and fair polls, the Supreme Court today said and directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines for regulating contents of manifestos.
A bench of justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi said though the election manifesto is published before the code of conduct comes into force, the Commission can make an exception by bringing its within code of conduct.
The judgement can have wide ramifications and can put a curb on political parties promising different types of freebies like distributing laptops, TVs, grinders and mixers, electric fans, four gram gold thali and free foodgrains if voted to power.
"There is no guideline for regulating the contents of election manifesto. We direct the Election Commission to frame guidelines on it," the bench said.
"We direct election commission to take up the task (of framing guidelines) immediately," it said.
The apex court also said that separate legislation should be made on this issue.
It said freebies promised by political parties disturb the level playing field among players contesting the polls and vitiates the election process.
The bench, however, dismissed the plea challenging J Jayalalithaa government's decision to implement AIADMK's poll promise of free household items to voters, saying that under the present law, promises of freebies made in the manifesto do not amount to corrupt practices.
The petition was filed by an advocate S Subramaniam Balaji, challenging the state's decision to distribute freebies.
According to the petitioner, competitive populism resorted to by political parties was unconstitutional besides being a huge drain on the state exchequer.
The petitioner had contended that freebies offered by the Tamil Nadu government amounted to bribing the voters and ran counter to the constitutional mandate of free and fair elections.
'More courts to deal with women, children cases'
In a bid to clear the huge backlog of cases, the Chief Justice of India-designate Justice P Sathasivam plans to put in place special courts to deal with the cases relating to offences against women, children and compensation claims.
"The cases pertaining to offences against women and children will be given priority and more special courts should be set up across the country to deal with them," says the judge, who will take over as the 40th CJI on July 19.
Justice Sathasivam, who did not consider the pendency of cases as "alarming", however, expressed concern over the fact that crimes against women are increasing.
He feels the issue can be effectively tackled by setting up more courts for women and children, besides the compensation matters, as they constitute one-third of total pending litigations.
"We have already identified the areas in which the courts have to concentrate and in association with the Government of India. We have constituted and are going to press for more separate courts for women and children, juvenile justice and matter relating to compensation either under Land Acquisition Act or Workmen Compensation Act," the CJI-designate told PTI in an interview.
Over three crore cases are pending in various courts across the country, according to information provided by the government in Parliament earlier this year.
Responding to a query as to which issue he would accord priority as the CJI, Justice Sathasivam said, "According to me, the pendency of litigations all over India starting from subordinate courts and ending with the apex court is the first priority."
He said, "If separate courts are constituted for these two branches, one for women and children and another for the compensation matters, pertaining to Land Acquisition, Motor actions cases, and compensation, these will take away one-third of the arrears from main pendency."
The CJI-designate said that he will continue with practise of his predecessors in the apex court to accord primacy to cases pertaining to women and children, the life sentence matters, and the accused who are in jail.
"In the same way, we are requesting the High Courts also.
Many High Courts have already started this method and the subordinate courts also. On the basis of our requests, High Courts have issued directions to all the district judges to give priority to these type of matters, old cases and senior citizens' cases," he said.
The judge also stressed that the matters relating to award of compensation be segregated from other conventional cases.
"See, the victims, the affected parties must get their compensation soon. So for this, litigations have to be segregated from the other conventional litigations and the courts have to give priority to such cases.
"We are asking the courts to concentrate only on these cases till they hear and decide a certain numbers of cases," Justice Sathasivam said.
He also gave various reasons for increasing number of pending cases in courts across the country.
"As far as pendency is concerned, no I won't say it is alarming, it is welcome, because you know that now India has developed much and is developing more international relations, many companies are coming (here), and definitely many litigations will also follow...," he said.
Apart from this, various new laws such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Negotiable Instruments Act have led to filing of "lakhs of cases" in the country, Justice Sathasivam said.
The judge also cited the increased awareness, matrimonial disputes and the proximity to the apex court as reasons for increase in the pending litigations.
"The main thing is more awareness and many new legislations. If I want to say in one sentence, it is more awareness among the citizens. In those days, normally people were satisfied with some order of the government or lower level judiciary. Now they want to take the matters up to the Supreme Court," he said.