Centre, 7 states seek review of SC verdict on public ads
The Centre and some states, including poll-bound West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, on Wednesday sought revision of the Supreme Court verdict, barring publication of leaders’ photos in advertisements – except those of President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India – saying that it infringed fundamental rights and federal structure.
The Bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi reserved its verdict on the review pleas of the Centre and seven states after hearing the day-long arguments, in which it was submitted that besides Prime Minister, pictures of Central ministers, Chief Ministers and other state ministers be allowed to be carried in public advertisements.
Meanwhile, the Bench, also comprising Justice PC Ghose, issued a notice to Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government and AIADMK-run Tamil Nadu dispensation on a separate plea of NGO Common Cause, seeking initiation of contempt action against them for “disobeying” the Apex Court guidelines on public advertisements.
The Bench also asked Delhi and Tamil Nadu to reply to its notice within six weeks.
The court had earlier barred publication of photos of leaders in government advertisements except those of the President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India.
At the outset, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, strongly favoured review of the verdict on various grounds, including that if Prime Minister’s photograph is allowed in the advertisements, then the same right should be available to his Cabinet colleagues as the PM is the “first among the equals”.
“The Chief Ministers and their Cabinet colleagues should also be allowed to feature in advertisements. The order is not in sync with the concept of federalism,” Rohatgi said.
He added that Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution empowers the state and the citizens to “give and receive” information and it cannot be curtailed and regulated by the courts. The fundamental right under Article 19 can only be regulated under Article 19 (2), which deals with reasonable restrictions to the freedom of speech and expression, he said.
Rohatgi opposed the plea that the advertisements can be misused, saying “the fact that any law or policy is capable of being misused, does not make the law or policy bad”.
The expenditure of governments is regulated either by Parliament or by state legislatures and moreover, there is a body like Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India to take care of accounting aspect of expenditure incurred on advertisements, Rohatgi said.
“This is akin to pre-censorship imposed by court,” Rohatgi said, adding that the courts should not venture into this area as it would violate the concept of separation of powers.
Rohatgi added that if only Prime Minister’s photograph is allowed in government advertisements, then it can be said that it would promote “personality cult”, which has been described as “an anti-thesis of democracy” by this court only.
Other ministers and the CMs are also answerable to the public and they cannot remain “faceless”, he said, adding that the Apex Court verdict has dealt with print advertisements only in the time where electronic and social media are also there. Besides Rohatgi, counsel for Karnataka, West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, UP, Odisha and Chattisgarh also sought review of the May 13 2015 verdict of the Apex Court.