Telecoms company Reliance Jio and digital wallet Paytm have apologized for the “inadvertent mistake” in the unauthorised use of Prime Minister Narendra Modi photographs in their advertisements, the government informed Parliament on Friday.
The ministry of consumer affairs had sent notices to the two companies under the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act of 1950, which bars use of Prime Minister’s name and picture for commercial use.
“Clarifications were sought by the department of consumer affairs from Paytm and Reliance Jio wherein they have apologised for their inadvertent mistake,” junior consumer affairs minister CR Chaudhary said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.
The two companies used the photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in full-page print advertisements contravening the “prior permission” stipulated under law, he said.
Based on the department’s request, the information and broadcasting ministry has issued an advisory to print medium to check-up the permission from competent authority before issuing any advertisement wherein the emblem and names specified under the act are mentioned, he said.
Responding to a query whether there is any mechanism to approve use of the Prime Minister’s photo by private firms or if the government plans to introduce one, the minister informed that a committee examines such proposals.
Section 3 of the act provides that no person shall use or continue to use any name or emblem for the purpose of any trade, business, calling or profession without permission of the central government.
The law says “any person who contravenes the provisions of Section 3 shall be punishable with fine, which may exceed to Rs 500”.
Businessman Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance group came out with print advertisements after the launch of Jio last September, offering free voice calls and data services till March 2017.
Reliance Jio dedicated its 4G service to the Modi government’s flagship Digital India project. Full-page advertisements were published with a photograph of the Prime Minister in a blue jacket, triggering a political controversy.
Paytm welcomed the government’s demonetization decision on November 9, hours after Modi announced the recall of two high-value notes, issuing an advertisement which had the Prime Minister’s photograph on it. The ad appealed to the people to start using its digital wallet service.
Experts said it wasn’t illegal in dedicating any service or product to the Prime Minister or any constitutional functionary, but permission is normally sought before putting in product advertisements images of popular leaders holding constitutional positions.
The ads drew criticism with the opposition pointing to it to reiterate its charge against the NDA government of being “pro-corporate”.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: “PM of India openly endorses Reliance product.”
The Congress did not take particular exception to the advertisement but party spokesperson Ajay Maken said appropriate action should be taken if permission was not sought for using the Prime Minister’s image.
Last year, when Bandhan Bank was inaugurated to provide loans to small-scale business, a photo of President Pranab Mukherjee was used.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general TK Vishwanathan found nothing illegal in such ads.
“If any corporate house or a private citizen wants to use the PM’s picture to dedicate a service or a product, at least legally, the industry has not committed any wrong,” he said.
(With inputs from PTI)