NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its order on the review pleas of the Centre and seven states seeking revision of the verdict barring publication of leaders’ photos in advertisements except those of President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India, saying that it infringed upon the fundamental rights and federal structure.
The Bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi reserved its verdict on the review pleas after hearing the day-long arguments in which it was submitted that besides Prime Minister, pictures of central ministers, Chief Ministers and others state ministers be allowed to be carried in public advertisements.
The court in May last year had barred publication of photos of leaders in government advertisements except those of the President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, strongly favoured a review of the verdict on various grounds including that if the Prime Minister’s photograph is allowed in the advertisements, then the same right should be available to his cabinet colleagues as the Prime Minister 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, adding 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.
Rohatgi also said that if only the 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.
“So for five years of a government, you are saying use only the Prime Minister’s face on the ads. Other ministers become faceless, nameless. Nobody else can be used in the advertisements. This will become pernicious and will lead to personality cult,” Rohatgi argued.
“Advertising campaigns for polio, health policies, cultural events that bring the nation together need well-known faces so that people will be attracted to look at them. This court should not have got into the sanctity of it (using photos in advertisements), but having done so, how can this court say only these three are exempted?” Rohatgi argued.
Other ministers and the Chief Ministers are also answerable to 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, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh also sought review of the May 13, 2015, verdict of the apex court.
During the hearing, advocate Meera Bhatia said despite the court’s order, the Centre has not set up to the three-member panel to oversee implementation of the guidelines regulating government-funded advertisements.
The Centre had on October 27 last year joined hands with several state governments in seeking review of the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment on the issue.
On May 13, the apex court had passed a slew of directions including the order asking the Centre to constitute a three- member committee “consisting of persons with unimpeachable neutrality and impartiality” to regulate the issue of public advertisements.