Electoral Reforms In India

Three-judge bench to review SC Verdict on Poll Promises


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Lofty poll promises and election freebies

The Supreme Court has decided to reconsider a 2013 judgment on Poll Promises, which held that promises in the election manifesto do not constitute a “corrupt practice” under the law.

What is the news?

  • A Bench led by the CJI, Ramana, ordered a three-judge Bench to be set up to review the court’s earlier position.

Subramaniam Balaji Judgment: Invalidating certain Poll Promises

  • It was held that pre-poll promises made by political parties to entice voters do not fall within the ambit of Section 123 (corrupt practices) under the Representation of the People (RP) Act.
  • The judgment, delivered by a two-judge Bench, had observed that although the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of RP Act.
  • The reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people.

Why revisit this judgment?

  • Rationale of the freebie: Now the CJI has said the three-judge Bench should consider whether an enforceable order can be passed to stop political parties in power from promising and distributing “irrational freebies”.
  • Freebie vs. Welfare schemes: He opined that such freebies are completely divorced from actual welfare schemes, using public money in order to merely “capture vote banks”.
  • Prevent bankruptcy: Freebies may create a situation wherein the State government cannot provide basic amenities due to lack of funds and the State is pushed towards imminent bankruptcy.
  • Expert review: The new Bench would also deliberate if an expert body can be formed to independently study and make recommendations against the distribution of largesse at the cost of the national economy and public welfare.

What amounts to Freebie?

  • The term Freebies is not new; rather it is a prevalent culture in Indian politics (in the name of socialism).
  • The political parties are always trying to outdo each other in luring the Indian voters with assorted freebies.
  • From free water to free smartphones the Indian politicians promise everything to attract prospective voters in favour.
  • This trend has gained more momentum in the recent times with the political parties being innovative in their offerings as the ‘traditional free water and electricity’ is no longer sufficient as election goodies.

Examples of freebies

  1. Promise of Rs 15 lakh in our bank accounts
  2. Free TV, Laptops
  3. Free electricity
  4. Loan waivers
  5. Offering free public transport ride to all women in Delhi

Why are such policies popular among the public?

  • Failure of economic policies: The answer lies in the utter failure of our economic policies to create decent livelihood for a vast majority of Indians.
  • Quest for decent livelihood: The already low income had to be reoriented towards spending a disproportionately higher amount on education and health, from which, the state increasingly withdrew.
  • Prevailing unemployment:  Employment surveys have shown that employment growth initially slowed down from the 1990s, and then has turned negative over the past few years.
  • Increased cost of living: Real income growth of the marginal sections has actually slowed down since 1991 reforms.
  • Increased consumerism: The poor today also spend on things which appear to be luxuries; cellphones and data-packs are two such examples which are shown as signs of India’s increased affluence.
  • Necessity: For migrant workers, the mobile phone helps them keep in touch with their families back home, or do a quick video-call to see how their infant is learning to sit up or crawl.

Can Freebies be compared with Welfare Politics?

  • These freebies are not bad. It is a part of social welfare.
  • Using freebies to lure voters is not good.
  • Voter’s greediness may lead to a problem in choosing a good leader.
  • When we don’t have a good leader then democracy will be a mockery.

Impact of such policies

  • Never ending trail: The continuity of freebies is another major disadvantage as parties keep on coming up with lucrative offers to lure more number of votes to minimize the risk of losing in the elections.
  • Burden on exchequer: People forget that such benefits are been given at the cost of exchequer and from the tax paid.
  • Ultimate loss of poors: The politicians and middlemen wipe away the benefits and the poor have to suffer as they are deprived from their share of benefits which was to be achieved out of the money.
  • Inflationary practice: Such distribution freebie commodity largely disrupts demand-supply dynamics.
  • Lethargy in population: Freebies actually have the tendency to turn the nation’s population into: Lethargy and devoid of entrepreneurship.
  • Money becomes only remedy: Everyone at the slightest sign of distress starts demanding some kind of freebies from the Govt.
  • Popular politics: This is psychology driving sections of the population expecting and the government promptly responds with immediate monetary relief or compensation.

What cannot be accounted to a freebie?

  • MGNREGA scheme (rural employment guarantee scheme)
  • Right to Education (RTE)
  • Food Security through fair price shops ( under National Food Security Act)
  • Prime Minister Kisan Samman Yojana (PM-KISAN)

Arguments in favour

  • Social investment: Aid to the poor is seen as a wasteful expenditure. But low interest rates for corporates to get cheap loans or the ‘sop’ of cutting corporate taxes are never criticized.
  • Socialistic policy: This attitude comes from decades of operating within the dominant discourse of market capitalism.
  • Election manifesto: Proponents of such policies would argue that poll promises are essential for voters to know what the party would do if it comes to power and have the chance to weigh options.
  • Welfare: Economists opine that as long as any State has the capacity and ability to finance freebies then its fine; if not then freebies are the burden on economy.
  • Other wasteful expenditure: When the Centre gives incentives like free land to big companies and announce multi-year tax holidays, questions are not asked as to where the money will come from.


  • There is nothing wrong in having a policy-led elaborate social security programme that seeks to help the poor get out of poverty.
  • But such a programme needs well thought out preparation and cannot be conjured up just before an election.


Also read:

[Sansad TV] Mudda Aapla: Culture of Freebies



UPSC 2023 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch