Tamil Nadu`s poll freebies hang on legal thread

Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa`s promised poll freebies are to roll out from September, but her plan could hit a roadblock with the apex court set to decide on a plea challenging such schemes.

Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa`s promised poll freebies, including mixers, grinders, fans and laptops, are to roll out from September, but her plan could hit a roadblock with the apex court set to decide on a plea challenging such schemes.

City-based advocate S. Subramaniam Balaji moved the apex court against the previous DMK government`s free colour television (CTV) distribution scheme, terming poll promises as "unconstitutional and bribery".

Though Jayalalithaa has already scrapped the DMK government`s free CTV scheme it will have no effect on his plea challenging the constitutional validity of the scheme, Balaji says.

Legal experts said the Supreme Court`s stand on the plea in the next hearing in July would not only decide issues linked to the CTV scheme but also the future of freebies announced by Jayalalithaa after coming to power.

Balaji told reporters, "The question of law still remains to be answered."

"The question raised by me still remains valid even though the Tamil Nadu government has scrapped the free CTV scheme," said Balaji, who alleged that the scheme amounted to a corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act.

The advocate filed the petition in the Supreme Court in August 2008 after his plea against the scheme was dismissed by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.

"Poll promises are unconstitutional and bribery, amounting to corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act," Balaji said.

"The government cannot enrich private individuals out of consolidated funds. The government cannot create a private asset out of public funds. Giving free CTVs or other items is precisely that," he said.

Responding to one of his complaints, the Election Commission took the stand that a declaration of a public policy or a promise of public action - like distributing free CTVs - was not an offence under Indian Penal Code provisions dealing with inducement to exercise an electoral right.

The distribution of free CTVs was a popular scheme of the erstwhile DMK government which procured around 16.4 million 14-inch TV sets at a cost of around Rs.3,687 crore.
Referring to the plea against the CTV scheme, legal experts said that the apex court had to decide whether to hear Balaji`s plea or dispose it off by citing the new state government`s move to scrap the scheme.

The court`s stand on Balaji`s plea may also decide the fate of various freebies announced by the AIADMK government, they added.
"Freebies are an important national issue. It would be better if the Supreme Court decides the question," senior advocate and Balaji`s counsel Arvind P. Datar told reporters.

The Jayalalithaa government has announced that it would start free distribution of mixers, grinders and fans from September andaround 2.5 million families will benefit from the scheme during 2011-12.

According to trade sources, the bill for these freebies could run into thousands of crores of rupees.
The free laptop scheme for Class 11 and 12 students of government-owned and government-aided schools and all students in government-owned and government-aided colleges will also kick off in September.

According to the AIADMK government, the scheme will be implemented in phases and during 2011-12 around 912,000 students will be given free laptops, at a cost of about Rs.450 crore.


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