Government advertisements, both at the Centre and in states, will from now on carry images of the Prime Minister, President and Chief Justice of India and no other personality, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.
Barring the publication of images of chief ministers and governors in state government ads informing the public about their achievements, a bench headed by justice Ranjan Gogoi said such photographs of individuals had the potential of creating a “personality cult”, which went against “democratic functioning” and was “gross wastage of public funds”.
The regulations will apply to all such material across mediums — such as print, broadcast, billboards, the internet — and will be in place till the government brings in a law on the subject.
The court prohibited multiple ads on the same individual, such as Mahatma Gandhi, saying it was enough if just one ministry or department sent out an ad. “While such persons must certainly be remembered, what would not be justified are several similar, if not identical, advertisements issued by different departments on the same occasion, as is happening today,” the bench said.
However, it also said there were advertisements issued on certain occasions — for instance, to mark the centenary year of the Patna high court — that served no purpose and must be avoided. “Institutions need not be glorified, they must earn glory by contribution and work.”
“The legitimate and permissible object of an advertisement… can always be achieved without publication of the photograph of a particular functionary either in the state or a political party,” said the SC verdict on a PIL filed by Common Cause that sought a directive to restrain governments from spending public funds on official advertisements to project an individual or a party.
It dismissed the NDA government’s opposition that the court could be treading on the executive’s turf.
Welcoming the order, Common Cause counsel Prashant Bhushan said all such billboards and ads would now have to be taken down.
The regulations are based on the recommendations of a committee headed by eminent academician Professor N Madhava Menon, which was formed by the court last year. The SC accepted all but three of its suggestions. It refused to appoint an ombudsman to deal with complaints of violations, instead asking the Centre to form a three-member panel to ensure compliance and giving it the liberty to nominate the members. It also refused to order special audits and did not restrict the government from issuing ads on the eve of elections.
Laying down the objectives for government ads, the court said they must be related to government responsibility, presented in an objective manner and not be directed at promoting a particular party’s interests.
It also said governments must avoid patronization of a particular media house “to ensure the independence, impartiality and neutrality of the fourth estate”.