Hearing a petition on misuse of public money by persons in power, the Supreme Court has ruled that government ads in print should, henceforth, feature images only of the President, the prime minister and the Chief Justice of India. Union and state government ads in newspapers may no longer figure images of Union Cabinet members, chief ministers, bureaucrats. Measured use of images, the apex court seems to believe, will curb personality cults growing around political leaders. However, would a line ministry ad, detailing achievements of its departments, not create a personality cult around the prime minister if it were to feature his image? That too, at the cost of perhaps a hard-working minister who could well deserve some recognition. What about ads from states where an opposition party (at the Centre) is in power?
The larger concern, though, is given the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity’s budget—for FY16, it gets just Rs 91 crore for ads across all media—government ads are not really what the apex court should be thinking of as misuse of public funds. Poor policy, like the food security Act or even the continuation of LPG subsidy, drain the exchequer of more money than government ads, in return for the political gains of populism. Such profligacy, unfortunately, remains shielded, thanks to the socialists in all arms of the government.