Centre opposes SC guidelines to regulate its advertisements

The government on Tuesday opposed the Supreme Court for the framing of guidelines on regulating its advertisements, saying this did not fall under the ambit of judicial purview as an elected dispensation was answerable to Parliament.

New Delhi: The government on Tuesday opposed the Supreme Court for the framing of guidelines on regulating its advertisements, saying this did not fall under the ambit of judicial purview as an elected dispensation was answerable to Parliament.

The government also asked as to how would the court decide which of the advertisement has been issued to gain political mileage.

A bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Pinaki Chandra, which reserved its verdict on various pleas on the issue, said it would consider submissions of all parties concerned including the central government.

Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, said, "These are matters which should be left to the government and are outside the purview of the courts. The government communicates to the public at large through these advertisements on policy and other matters."

He was opposing to the submission of Prashant Bhushan, who was representing an NGO, that there should be an ombudsman to regulate misuse of public money by the government of the day by giving advertisements to gain political mileage.

"The government expenditure is subject to whole lot of parliamentary procedures and each penny is accounted for and is subject to the audit of the CAG. This is not a case akin to the Visakha case where the courts can step in," the AG said.

Giving several instances, he said it would amount to "pre-censorship" as it is difficult to judge which of the advertisement is being given to gain political mileage.

"Today, we have the swine flu campaign going on across the country. Do we suggest that these advertisements should not contain the pictures of the health minister or health secretary etc. It cannot be said this (advertisement) is given with malafide intention," he said, adding that every government department was entitled by Parliament to spend a particular amount under a particular head.

"On what basis, you will decide that it is malafide and is being given to gain political mileage. Ultimately, the government is answerable to Parliament," he said.

At the outset, Bhushan endorsed as "salutary" the recommendations of the court-appointed committee and said that they should be issued by the court to ensure that their non-adherence invite consequences. 

Earlier, the court had refused to direct stopping the publication of government advertisements carrying photos of political figures saying that it would like hear the Centre and others on a court-appointed panel's recommendations to regulate publicity materials.

It had said it would consider this aspect on February 17 and asked the Centre and others including NGOs, Common Cause and Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) which had filed the pleas,to submit responses on the panel's report.

Prior to that, the panel had submitted the report and made several recommendations including that the names and pictures of political parties and their office-bearers should not be mentioned in government advertisements.

Holding that there has been "misuse and abuse" of public money on such advertisements, the three-member committee headed by eminent academician Prof NR Madhava Menon had framed guidelines to regulate expenditure and contents of such advertisements paid out of tax payers' money.

The report had emphasised that only pictures and names of the President, the Prime Minister, Governor and Chief Ministers be published to "keep politics away from such ads".

The committee had also endorsed the suggestions of the Election Commission that there must be "severe" restrictions on such advertisements six months prior to elections.

It had recommended that a deadline should be fixed for prohibiting their publication and the poll panel should be authorised for the purpose.

The apex court had on April 24 had set up the committee and decided to frame guidelines to prevent "misuse" of public funds by the government and authorities in giving ads in newspapers and television to gain political mileage.

The committee, which comprised TK Viswanathan, former secretary general of Lok Sabha and Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, had recommended that there should only be a single advertisement, preferably by Information and Broadcasting Ministry, for commemorative occasions like birth or death anniversary of an important personality.

The panel, which also suggested creation of an implementation committee headed by either an Ombudsman or Cabinet Secretary or Secretary in I&B Ministry, had said government advertisements should not be allowed to the advantage of the ruling party or for assailing the opposition.

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