New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Friday reserved its judgement on a plea seeking quashing of the city government's guideline banning "political advertisements" on public service vehicles even as it said that "as one political party got benefit out of it, so you want to ban it".
"We cannot diminish the right of freedom of speech," a bench of justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Vibhu Bakhru said, adding "since you are not doing it, we will do it on merits".
"Just one political party got benefit out of it. It means you want to ban it forever. There can't be any pre-censorship of public advertisements," the court said.
"Argument is heard. The judgement is reserved," it said.
The court said it will decide particularly three issues in its judgement -- whether political advertisement should be allowed on public service vehicles, their pre-censorship, and on the issue that advertisement will be allowed only for vehicles having GPS and GPRS systems.
The court reserved its order after the counsel for Delhi government and an autorickshaw union concluded their arguments.
Delhi government's standing counsel Zubeda Begum told the court that it cannot remove the word "political" from its recent guidelines.
On August 1, Delhi government had placed its latest guidelines for display of advertisements on public service vehicles according to which any advertisement containing political, ethnic, religious or sectarian text will not be permitted.
It had specified that the vehicle-owner needed to obtain an approval from municipal authorities before displaying any political advertisements on public service vehicles.
"Advertisements cannot be displayed without approval from municipal bodies and are allowed only for vehicles having GPS/GPRS systems," the guidelines had said. The bench today questioned Delhi government's step to allow advertisements only for autorickshaws having GPS/GPRS systems and pre-censorship of advertisements by civic bodies.
The court had earlier also noted that the government can't stop them (autorickshaws) from putting up advertisements as there was a stay order of the court on the government's decision barring autos from putting out ads.
The auto union, in their plea, have told the court the guidelines interfere with the right of smaller political parties to express their political views via advertisements on auto-rickshaws, etc, a much cheaper medium for expressing political speech.
They also objected to the transport department's move to ban posters carrying any political expression, saying the order was "discriminatory" since the Motor Vehicles Act allows government to only regulate and not to prohibit advertisements on vehicles.
The guidelines said approvals will not be granted if the advertisement contains "political, ethnic, religious or sectarian text".
The auto union also sought a direction to the government to allow advertisement on autorickshaws, subject to reasonable regulations as that have been framed in the case of radio taxi in Delhi.
It has sought that they be allowed to display advertisements or social messages, having political content, on their vehicles, saying the guidelines have been notified at the instance of major ruling political parties.
Public service vehicles in Delhi include all public transport options from rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, taxis, school buses and buses run by contractors or Delhi Transport Corporation.
In June last year, the then Delhi government had banned advertisements on PSVs after auto-rickshaws started sporting Aam Aadmi Party posters in the run-up to Delhi Assembly Elections.
Thereafter, the high court had stayed Delhi government's ban.
Subsequently, in May, the city government had informed the court that it is in the process of finalising the general guidelines for allowing advertisements on public service vehicles and the same is under submission for approval of the LG.