SC: States expected to set up bodies to monitor govt. ads, raps Delhi govt.

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has said it expected all government “functionaries to rise to the occasion” and to act in the matter of publication of Government advertisements with “utmost responsibility to ensure that such advertisements carry the right message to the citizens and do not glorify and/or personify any particular individual presently in the helm of affairs of the Union or the State.”

Dismissing a contempt petition by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, the court said the impact and importance of a government advertisement cannot be lost on the functionaries of the Union as well as the State.

The court expressed confidence that in future advertisements of states, union territories or the Union of India, the “purpose” of government advertisements as dealt with in its judgment “shall be kept in mind and the advertisements will be published in the true spirit in which they are required to be so published.”

Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justice P C Ghosh said in their recent judgment that the “spirit” of the judgment of 13 May 2015 relating to government advertising “would require the states to also constitute their respective committees which shall now be done.”

The court added: “If the states so desire the committee constituted at the central level referred to in the affidavit of the Union of India may be entrusted with the task of overseeing the publication of advertisements in the states”.

The judges said the judgment had “clearly laid down that the committee constituted would be responsible for ironing out the creases that may show from time to time in the implementation of the directions of the court and also to oversee such implementation. In the event it becomes so necessary and the committee, for any reasons, is unable to render effective and meaningful service it is always open for an aggrieved party or a conscious citizen to approach this court once again.”

Noting that “we do not think it necessary to do so at this stage”, the judges rejected the argument by counsel Prashant Bhushan that the committee suggested by the court should be armed with further powers.

The Court also noted that the government affidavit showed that the three-member committee has been constituted consisting of the persons mentioned in the body of the affidavit. In fact, the first meeting of the committee has been held on 18 April 2016.

(A three-member committee headed by former chief election commissioner B B Tandon was set up on 6 April. The other members are News Broadcasters Association president and editor-in-chief of India TV Rajat Sharma, and Ogilvy & Mather executive chairman and creative director for South Asia Piyush Pandey)

Referring to the allegations about the publication of advertisements by Tamil Nadu, the court said that the affidavit of the chief secretary to the state government showed that the advertisements published by the state do not carry the photograph of the chief minister and the advertisements which do carry the photograph of the chief minister were so published by the Indian Express, New Delhi Edition and funded by the said group and not by the state. Therefore, the judges said “we do not consider it necessary to pursue the matter any further”.

As far as allegations about advertisements of Delhi government belittling other political parties went, the court said “a reading of the advertisements in question published by the government of NCT of Delhi would go to show that some portions of the same have been somewhat inarticulately drafted and there is room for improvement.”

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