NEW DELHI: Pictures of Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, Governors and State Ministers can now appear in government advertisements with the Supreme Court today modifying its earlier order and allowing their publication.
The verdict came on pleas by Centre and states including poll-bound West Bengal and Tamil Nadu which had sought review of the Supreme Court judgement barring publication of leaders' photos in advertisements except those of the President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India, saying it infringed fundamental rights and federal structure.
"We review our judgement by which we have allowed the publication of pictures of the President of India and Prime Minister in the government advertisements. Now we allow the publication of pictures of Union Ministers of concerned departments, Chief Ministers, Governors and State Ministers of the concerned departments.
"Rest of the conditions and exceptions will remain as it is," a bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and P C Ghose said.
The apex court had on March 9 reserved its verdict on the review pleas 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 had earlier barred publication of photos of leaders in government advertisements except those of the President, PM and the CJI.
Earlier, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, had 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 AG had also said that the Chief Ministers and their cabinet colleagues too should be allowed to feature in advertisements.
Besides Centre, states of Karnataka, West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Chattisgarh had also sought review of the May 13, 2015 verdict of the apex court. The Centre, while seeking review, had earlier said that Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) of the Indian Constitution empowers the state and the citizens to "give and receive" information and it cannot be curtailed and regulated by the courts.
The Attorney General had said 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 Chief Ministers are also answerable to public and they cannot remain "faceless", he had said, adding that the apex court verdict has dealt with print advertisements only in the time where electronic and social media are also there.
The Centre had on October 27 last year joined hands with several state governments in seeking review of the Supreme Court's landmark judgement on the issue.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing NGO Common Cause which had filed the original PIL on review petitions filed by the states, had told the bench that certain state governments were violating the apex court's orders.
On May 13, 2015 the apex court had passed a slew of directions including the order asking Centre to constitute a three-member committee "consisting of persons with unimpeachable neutrality and impartiality" to regulate the issue of public advertisements.