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Supreme Court allows photos of Governors, CMs and Ministers permitted in Government ads, in review of earlier order

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New Delhi: In a reversal of its own judgment of 13 May last year, the Supreme Court today allowed the use of photographs of governors, chief ministers and ministers in government advertisements.

The apex Court gave the judgment on a batch of petitions filed by the Centre and various states seeking a review relating to photos of politicians on government advertisements.

The Court had in May last year given a direction on a public interest petition that only photographs of the Prime Minister, President and Chief Justice of India can be published in official media advertisements and not those of chief ministers. But the personal approval of these three authorities will be necessary before publication.

The Centre in its petition argued that it is for the government to decide whose photographs should be published and what the content of advertisements should be. It said the court should refrain from interfering in such policy matters.

The Centre also said barring photos of chief ministers on advertisements was against the federal structure.

Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Prafulla C. Pant who had passed the original directions said in September that the review petitions will be heard in open court.

Prior to the order relating to hearing in open court, the judges perused the petitions of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Karnataka, and Assam in the chamber.

The four states filed the review petitions challenging direction as being discriminatory and erroneous since it has permitted the photograph of the Prime Minister but not the chief ministers who too are elected representatives of the people.

The states pointed out that the expert panel had recommended display of photos of CMs/governors as well but the Court had restrained the states from displaying photos of CMs/governors.

The petitions had said: “There is nothing wrong if the publication issued by the government highlighting the achievements of the government contains photographs of the chief minister and the other ministers if they have made contribution to the achievements of the state government. The judgment is completely silent regarding the exclusion of the chief minister who is the head of the state government. If the photograph of the prime minister is permitted on the publication/advertisement then the photographs of the chief minister must have also been permitted by this court.”

The original public interest litigations (PIL) filed by the NGOs Common Cause represented by counsel Meera Bhatia and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan had urged the apex Court to frame guidelines.

Holding that taxpayers' money cannot be spent to build "personality cults" of political leaders, the Court in May last had restrained ruling parties from publishing photographs of political leaders or prominent persons in government-funded advertisements.

The Court had said such photos divert attention from the policies of the government, unnecessarily associate an individual with a government project, and pave the way for cultivating a "personality cult".

The observations of the Court were based on examination of the findings of a Committee led by Bangalore's National Law University Director N.S. Madhava Menon set up in May last year which had submitted its report in October.

The Committee had been set up by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry pursuant to an order of 23 April 2014. Other members were former Lok Sabha Secretary General T K Vishwanathan, and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar. Mr Bimal Julka, then Secretary in the I and B Ministry, was the member Secretary of the Committee.  

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