Issuing regulations for government advertisements, the Supreme Court on Wednesday banned the use of photographs of any politician other than the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India in such ads.
It said advertisements issued to commemorate the anniversaries of acknowledged personalities like the father of the nation would, of course, carry the photograph of the departed leader.
A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however, did not extend this exception to the state chief ministers and governors. This means that state government advertisements promoting development project or publicising its achievements cannot showcase pictures of its chief minister or the governor.
“Photos have the potential of developing personality cult, the top court said.
Laying down the guidelines for publication of advertisements by the government to avoid public funds being misused to favour the ruling political party and glorify certain politicians, it said that the governments should avoid such unproductive expenditure of public funds.
It also rejected government’s contention that judiciary should not tread on the territory of policy decisions, holding the courts could step in if there was no policy or law in place.
Most of the regulations laid down by the top court were part of the SC-appointed committee headed by eminent ombudsman. Besides not accepting its recommendation on the use of a chief Minister’s photo, the bench also disagreed with the committee’s advise to have an ombudsman to oversee the implementation of the regulations.
“We are, therefore, of the view that in departure to the views of the Committee which recommended permissibility of publication of the photographs of the President and Prime Minister of the country and Governor or Chief Minister of the State alongwith the advertisements, there should be an exception only in the case of the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the country who may themselves decide the question,” the bench ordered.
The apex court also refused to accept the committee’s recommendation for a special audit of award of government advertisements to media houses and restrain the government from issuing advertisements six months before an election.
It also asked the central government to constitute a three-member committee to regulate the issue of public advertisement.
The judgment also said that the government had to maintain the principle of fairness in disseminating information through advertisements across all media.
The SC had on April 24, last year set up an expert committee to frame guidelines to prevent “misuse” of public funds by the government and authorities in giving ads in newspapers and television to gain political mileage.
Stating that all expenses of the Centre are accounted for with the national auditor CAG, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had argued that “these are matters which should be left to the government and are outside the purview of the courts. The government communicates to the public at large through these advertisements on policy and other matters”.
The judgement came on petitions filed by NGOs seeking rules to protect taxpayer’s money from being spent on gaining undue political mileage.