Apex court forays into executive's turf

The Supreme Court’s guidelines allowing only the photos of the President, prime minister and the chief justice of India (CJI) in government advertisements have thrown up more questions than resolving the issue that was raised through a public interest litigation (PIL). The apex court laid down the guidelines in response to the PIL by Common Cause and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation that sought an end to widespread misuse of government advertisements by politicians. The dos and don’ts are troubling. For, the court’s guidelines seem to have encroached on the executive’s territory – on deciding whose photograph should or should not figure in a government advertisement.

It is almost an accepted practice that the photographs of politicians belonging to the party in power appear in official advertisements extolling achievements of a government. In a democracy like the one that has evolved and practised in our country, politicians get elected and then form the government. Technically,  it is hard to separate one from the other when a minister belongs both to a government and to the party to which they belong. In this context, allowing only the photos of the President or the prime minister is bound to be questioned. Already, elderly politician and Tamil Nadu’s former chief minister M Karunanidhi has termed the guidelines as one that adversely affects the rights of the chief ministers of states who, according to him, are popularly elected and are executive heads at the state level. He has termed the guidelines as serving to “snatch the rights of the states”. Questions are also raised about the guidelines in so far as it allowed the photograph of the CJI in government advertisements. Why would any government want to include the CJI in any advertisement? Indeed, some political leaders have already raised this question. They aver that the apex court should be focussing on making the country's justice delivery system more efficient than lay guidelines on use of photos in government advertisements.

It is contentious for the apex court to take the view that government advertisements featuring photographs of sundry politicians has the potential to build a personality cult and to also suggest that it is against democratic functioning. Is it that the government advertisements alone promote a personality cult in politics? Obviously not. As Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi is credited with the argument, these are issues that should be left to the discretion of the executive branch of the government. After all, what the executive spends is subject to parliamentary scrutiny and every paise is accounted for and, further, it is also subject to a stringent audit. In short, the guidelines are harsh in that they set limits to what is essentially the executive’s prerogative. 

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