A recent order of the Madras High Court saying photos of persons who are alive shall not feature on banners or flex boards in Tamil Nadu drew a mixed response. While a section welcomed Justice S Vaidyanathan’s ruling, others wondered how regulating the content of banners would clean up the landscape when there was no speaking order against the erection of banners themselves. And how would it serve any meaningful purpose if, say, the AIADMK were to put up huge hoardings of party icons M G Ramachandran or J Jayalalithaa in place of Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami or if the DMK were to do an encore with C N Annadurai on their banners instead of M Karunanidhi and M K Stalin? In the forthcoming RK Nagar by-elections and the local body polls, whenever it happens, how would the voters get to know their candidates if their photos are not carried on their publicity material?
The case involved a woman before whose house a large banner was erected and her subsequent harassment. The single judge bench telescoped it to cover the entire state and said the order applied to “unnecessary drawings on the walls of the buildings/residential places”. When the Chennai Corporation filed an appeal against the order and sought urgent hearing, a flustered bench ticked it off, saying past High Court orders on hoardings had not been enforced. Why, even Supreme Court orders have been routinely flouted.
For example, the Karnataka government refused to abide by the distress year formula for Cauvery river water release during last year’s drought despite multiple Supreme Court fiats to do so. And the national anthem issue where the apex court is currently dissecting its own ruling given by a bench that had Justice Dipak Mishra, when he was not the chief justice of India, is amusing. Judicial overreach does disservice to an institution that otherwise commands great respect. It will be interesting to track the outcome of the appeal against the purge of living leaders from banners in Tamil Nadu.