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The term “freebie" should not be confused with genuine welfare measures, the Supreme Court said pointing out that there is a distinctive difference between television sets, consumer electronics, and welfarist offers. It further asserted that political parties and individuals cannot be prevented from making poll promises aimed at fulfilling the constitutional mandate. 

“We all must remember the good old saying: ‘There is no free lunch’, '' the apex court said, adding the “concern is about the right way of spending public money".

“There has to be a distinction between the offer of ornaments, television sets, consumer electronics free of cost and real welfarist offers. The promise of free coaching for professional courses cannot be compared with the promise of free white goods," a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said.

And referring to Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the SC observed voters are not looking for freebies, “Given an opportunity, they will look for dignified earning."

On the issue of regulating freebies announced during elections, the bench, which also included justices J K Maheshwari and Hima Kohli, said, it is “getting increasingly complicated" and asked all the stakeholders to advise them on the proposed panel while fixing the PIL for hearing on August 22.  

he bench said the expression ‘freebie’ should not be confused with genuine welfare measures" and gave illustrations to distinguish between freebies and “real welfarist offer".

“As rightly pointed out by some of you, Article 38 (2) of the Constitution mandates the State to ‘strive to minimize inequalities in income, and endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities, and opportunities, not only amongst individuals but also amongst groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations.

“You cannot prevent a political party or individual from making promises that are aimed at fulfilling this constitutional mandate if elected to power. The question is what exactly qualifies as a valid promise," the CJI observed.

"Can the promise to provide free and compulsory education to all be termed as a freebie," the bench asked.

“Can we describe the promise of subsidy on power, seeds, and fertilizers to small and marginal farmers to make agriculture remunerative as a freebie? Can we describe the promise to provide free and universal health care as a freebie? Can we describe the promise to provide safe drinking water free of cost to every citizen as a freebie," it observed.

The CJI gave another illustration asking can the promise of providing a few minimum essential units of electricity free of cost to the needy be held as a freebie.

“I don’t think voters are looking for freebies. Given an opportunity, they will look for dignified earnings. We have examples of schemes such as Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which offered dignified earning and also created public assets in rural India," the CJI said.

 

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