NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday gave major relief to various states, including poll-bound West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam, by modifying its earlier order and thereby allowing photographs of Chief Ministers, Governors and Ministers to be carried in public advertisements.
In its earlier order, the court had held that only the President, Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India could feature in government advertisments, a decision that was challenged by the Centre and seven states.
“The exception carved out in paragraph 23 of ... the judgment dated May 13, 2015 permitting publication of the photographs of the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the country, subject to the said authorities themselves deciding the question, is now extended to the Governors and the Chief Ministers of the States,” a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.
“In lieu of the photograph of the Prime Minister, the photograph of the Departmental (Cabinet) Minister/Minister In-charge of the concerned Ministry may be published, if so desired,” the order stated.
The bench said that similarly in the states, the photograph of the cabinet minister or minister in-charge, in lieu of the photograph of the Chief Minister, could be published, if so desired.
The bench, however, clarified that all other directions in the May 13, 2015 judgment would remain in force.
The verdict came on pleas by the Centre and Karnataka, West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, which had sought a review of apex court’s verdict on grounds that it infringed upon fundamental rights and the federal structure. The Centre, during the hearing, had strongly favoured a review of the verdict on various grounds, including that if the Prime Minister’s photograph was allowed in the advertisements then the same right should be available to his cabinet colleagues as the Prime Minister was the “first among the equals”.
The Attorney General had also contended that if only the Prime Minister’s photograph is allowed in government advertisements then it could be said that it would promote a “personality cult”, which has been described as “an anti-thesis of democracy” by the same court.
The Centre, while seeking review, had earlier said that Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) of the Indian Constitution empowered the state and the citizens to “give and receive” information and it could not be curtailed and regulated by the courts.