Analysis: SC ruling on govt ads tramples on executive’s domain

  • Satya Prakash, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 16, 2015 01:25 IST

The Supreme Court’s verdict that photographs of only the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India can be used in government advertisements impinges on the right of other leaders to connect with their people and milit-ates against India’s healthy federalism.

India’s polity features a large number of powerful and charismatic leaders who have won office through the rough and tumble of electoral politics. These men and women need to reach out to their constituents, and state government ads legitimately showcase their achievements to the people who vote for them.

To take away this tool of communication and to shut them out of these ads by featuring the PM or President instead would be a tough blow. It would be incongruous to picture only the PM and not the chief minister in an ad that highlights a state government project, especially in a state run by political parties other than the BJP that rules the Centre.

The court may be right in checking extravagant spending on multiple government advertisements on birth and death anniversaries of leaders and political luminaries, but there should be a distinction between this sort of spending and legitimate public relations.

In any case, there exist adequate checks and balances on publicity spending in the form of the national auditor and more importantly, voters who hold profligate governments accountable every five years.

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister Karunanidhi has rightly pointed out that the Prime Minister was ‘symbolic’ of the central government, a chief minister was his equivalent in the state. Other states are also speaking out.

The SC has gone beyond individuals and said “institutions need not be glorified.” For the Supreme Court to say that is unfortunate, to say the least. Individuals come and go, institutions are permanent. Democracy functions through institutions, which are represented by individuals — elected or otherwise.

Coming at a time when the judiciary and the executive are already engaged in a turf war over judicial appointment following the enactment of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, the verdict is bound to be viewed as yet another example of judicial activism — often criticised by jurists as a serious aberration from constitutional principle of separation of power.

While over 30 million cases remain pending in various courts across India, our judiciary has been entertaining public interest litigations on subjects ranging from nursery admissions, the number of free beds in hospitals on public land, air pollution, begging in public and the legality of constructions in Delhi.

It has been identifying the buildings to be demolished, determining the size of speed-breakers on Delhi roads, and dealing with how much auto-rickshaws charge.

India as a developing country faces multiple socio-economic challenges and the judiciary has a definite role to play in achieving the constitutional goals of social, economic and political justice. What it needs to remember is the fact that there can’t be judicial solutions to all ills.

Only PM, President, Chief Justice can feature in govt ads: SC

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