The Centre Wednesday told the Supreme Court that government leaders could not be blacked out of official advertisements just before the Lok Sabha election.
The court Wednesday reserved its verdict on a plea seeking issuance of guidelines for curbing ruling parties from taking political mileage by projecting their leaders in official advertisements.
The bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice N.V. Ramana asked all parties to give their suggestions for guidelines that the court is likely to frame to curb parties in power at the Centre or in states from taking advantage by running a huge publicity blitz just before the polls.
Resisting the plea by counsel Meera Bhatia and Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGOs Common Cause and Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), counsel K. Radhakrishnan appearing for the government said what was being sought to be projected as leaders of ruling parties were in fact elected representatives of the people.
Radhakrishnan sought to draw a distinction between the advertisement campaign before the election and in the normal course of time.
"The rules that you are mentioning provide for the issuance of advertisements in print and electronic media based on circulation and languages of their publication and do not cover the issue being addressed by the court," Chief Justice Sathasivam said, as Radhakrishnan referred to the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) rules.
Referring to the "India Shining" publicity blitz in 2003-04 by the then BJP-led government and the "Bharat Nirman" campaign in 2008-09 and others by state governments, the court was told by the NGOs that the advertisements which made exaggerated claims of achievements were aimed at reaping electoral benefits.
Appearing for Common Cause, counsel Meera Bhatia said the glorification of politicians linked to the ruling establishment, in order to attain political mileage at the cost of public exchequer, was violative of article 14 of the constitution.
Appearing for CPIL, counsel Prashant Bhushan told the court there was nothing wrong in issuing advertisements and informing the public about the programmes of the government.
However, Bhushan said such advertisement campaigns become arbitrary and malafide when aimed at gaining political mileage.
Bhushan told the court that such campaigns distort the free and fair election and undermines democracy.
"Can we say that you have no objection to government issuing advertisements highlighting its achievements and programmes without photographs of leaders of the ruling party," Chief Justice Sathasivam asked Bhushan.
"If the government of India wants to convey something, is it wrong to carry the photographs of the prime minister or in a similar situation that of a chief minister in case of states," the court asked.
He also asked whether advertisements highlighting government achievements and programmes can be issued on the birth anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.
Bhushan said they can but were prone to misuse.