Poll promise is bribery, says crusader

April 9th, 2009 - 11:48 am ICT by IANS  

By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, April 9 (IANS) Cheap rice, free TV, free power, free stove, cash dole… With just a week left for the start of the Lok Sabha polls, it’s open season for promises. But hold on, says S. Subramaniam Balaji; this is “bribery”, so it’s against the law.

Most recently, Balaji, an advocate here, has shot off a complaint to Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami asking the poll panel to disqualify all Telegu Desam Party (TDP) candidates from the parliament and Andhra Pradesh assembly polls.

The party has promised free colour television sets to poor people, transfer of Rs.2,000 to bank accounts of people below the poverty line, Rs.1,500 to the poor and Rs.1,000 to middle class families in Andhra Pradesh.

“The TDP’s promises are unconstitutional and bribery amounting to corrupt practice under Section 123 (1) of the Representation of the People Act read together with Section 171-B(2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Such promises are ultra vires Article 282 of Indian constitution,” Balaji told IANS.

“A government cannot enrich private individuals out of consolidated funds. Giving free land or free TVs or monthly cash doles are precisely that.”

Section 171-B(2) of IPC reads: “A person who offers, or agrees to give, or offers or attempts to procure, a gratification shall be deemed to give a gratification.”

While TDP estimates the cash transfer scheme would cost the state exchequer Rs.100 billion (Rs.10,000 crore), its rival Congress has said the scheme would actually cost double that amount.

The free colour TV scheme is expected to cost around Rs.30 billion (Rs.3,000 crore).

“The Election Commission is yet to reply to my complaint. I will be sending an application under the Right to Information Act to know the status of my complaint,” added the 36-year-old Balaji.

Balaji has been at his crusade before.

During the run up to the 2006 Tamil Nadu assembly elections, the DMK promised free colour TVs, rice at Rs.2 per kg, a two-acre plot for the landless, a free gas stove per family, a Rs.300 cash dole for the unemployed, free power to weavers and maternity assistance of Rs.1,000 for all poor women for six months.

After winning the elections the DMK government reduced the price of rice sold in public distribution shops to Re.1 per kg.

Balaji felt the DMK poll promises were fundamentally wrong. He complained to the Election Commission. Then he filed a case in the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court.

When the high court dismissed the case, he approached the Supreme Court, which admitted the Special Leave Petition in August 2008.

Meanwhile Balaji continued to complain to the Election Commission whenever a political party made similar promises.

“What I feared in 2006 has come true now with other political parties copying the wrong precedent set by DMK,” he said.

Responding to one of his complaints, the poll panel took the stand that a declaration of public policy or a promise of public action - like free colour TV - was not an offence under Section 171-B of IPC.

Balaji responds: “Food is one of the three essentials for a person to life. It comes under public policy. But colour TV is not an essential item.”

Taking on the high and mighty is not new to Balaji.

It was his public interest petition in the Madras High Court that brought in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the involvement of some high ranking police officials in the Telgi fake stamp paper scam.

The CBI probe led to the arrest of two senior police officials - Deputy Inspector General Mohammed Ali and Deputy Superitendent of Police S. Sankar.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

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