As CMs Flout Supreme Court Ban on Self-Advertising, a Call for Punitive Action

Double page Tamil Nadu government advertisement in the Economic Times, Delhi edition, 27 May 2015

Double page Tamil Nadu government advertisement in the Economic Times, Delhi edition, 27 May 2015

New Delhi: With the first major violations of the recent Supreme Court ban on publishing photographs of Chief Ministers in government advertisements coming to light, lawyers remain divided on whether the Prime Minister should also be covered by the prohibition so as to not disturb the federal structure of the Constitution.

Simultaneously, the states are also demanding that Governors and Chief Ministers be added to the exempted list so as to provide a level-playing field.

The first infringement of the SC ban took place when an Andhra Pradesh government advertisement in the latest issue of India Today magazine titled “Welcome to the Sunrise State – Andhra Pradesh” included a photograph of Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu as part of the visuals.

Tamil Nadu government advertisement, front page, Hindustan Times, Delhi edition, 26 May 2015

Tamil Nadu government advertisement, front page, Hindustan Times, Delhi edition, 26 May 2015

On 27 May, the Economic Times ran a double-page Tamil Nadu government advertisement which included a photograph of Chief Minister J Jayalalalithaa. Curiously, the day before, the TN government ran a full-page advertisement full of text but no photograph of the CM.

Prashant Bhushan, who had filed a PIL petition in the court on behalf of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation seeking a curb on taxpayer money being spent on gaining political mileage, told The Wire that those violating the SC ban “should first be warned and then prosecuted.”

Bhushan also believes the Prime Minister must be removed from the exempted list so that no ruling political party is able to take undue advantage of the law. “The Prime Minister should also be taken out,” he said.

In its May 13 ruling, the Supreme Court had observed that since “photos have the potential of developing personality cult,” government advertisements would henceforth only feature pictures of the Prime Minister, the President and the Chief Justice of India, that too with their approval. It had barred the publication of photographs of Chief Ministers, Governors and other politicians in government advertisements.

Several past and present CMs have spoken against the judgment. While former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M. Karunanidhi said the ban on photographs of CMs in government advertisements amounted to “snatching the rights of States” since the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers have been accorded equal status by the Constitution, the Tamil Nadu government has also moved the Supreme Court to seek a review of the guidelines in the case.

Senior advocate Yogesh Kanna, who appeared for Tamil Nadu, told The Wire that his government’s stand is that “since India has a federal structure, the Chief Minister and Governor are at par with the Prime Minister and President respectively.”

Kanna said the “main point” is that the N. R. Madhava Menon Committee, on whose recommendations the judgment was based, had also recommended in its report that these four Constitutional posts be kept out of the purview of the ban of photos in government advertisements.

The three-member panel, headed by legal academician Madhava Menon and comprising T.K. Viswanathan, former Secretary General of Lok Sabha and Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, had recommended that names and pictures of political parties and their office bearers like presidents should not be mentioned in government advertisements. It had stated that only pictures and names of the President, the Prime Minister, Governor and Chief Ministers should be published.

However, the Supreme Court in its order did not strictly follow the Menon committee recommendations, opting instead for a more stringent guideline.

Senior advocate Meera Bhatia, who was a petitioner in the case on behalf of NGO Common Cause, said irrespective of the demands, the fact is “the judgment holds today”. She said the Supreme Court has not taken cognizance of any review petition and neither have the petitioners received any notice.

As for the recent advertisements appearing with the photographs  of CMs, Bhatia said “any violation is an infringement of the law. The court can issue contempt and can pull up those committing the violations. The judgment is final.”

Right to Information Act activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal said the “concerned” persons should take cognisance of the violation of the Supreme Court verdict to prevent misuse of public funds.

He said while several state governments might in the name of “federal structure of Constitution” move the apex court to demand that photos of Chief Ministers be allowed in government advertisements, it should be remembered that “Chief Ministers have been biggest misusers of photo-publicity at public-expense.”

But he too wants the Prime Minister out of the approved list. It would be ideal if only the photo of President of India is permitted in government advertisement, he said.