New Delhi: In a major relief to various states including poll-bound West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam, the Supreme Court on Friday modified its earlier order and allowed photographs of chief ministers, governors and ministers to be carried in public advertisements.
The court, in its verdict last year, had held that only the President, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India can feature in government advertisments, a decision which was later challenged by the Centre and seven states.
"The exception carved out in paragraph 23 of ...judgment dated 13 May, 2015 permitting publication of the photographs of the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the country, subject to the said authorities themselves deciding the question, is now extended to the Governors and the Chief Ministers of the States," a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.
The bench also comprising Justice PC Ghose said, "In lieu of the photograph of the Prime Minister, the photograph of the Departmental (Cabinet) Minister/Minister In-charge of the concerned Ministry may be published, if so desired."
It said that similarly in the states, the photograph of the cabinet minister or minister in-charge in lieu of the photograph of the CM could be published, if so desired.
The bench, however, clarified that all other directions in the judgment of May 2015 shall continue to "remain in force".
The verdict came on pleas by Centre and seven states including Karnataka, West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Chattisgarh which had sought review of the 13 May, 2015 verdict of the apex court, saying it infringed fundamental rights and federal structure.
Earlier, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, had strongly favoured review of the verdict on various grounds including that if Prime Minister's photograph is allowed in the advertisements then the same right should be available to his cabinet colleagues as the PM is the "first among the equals".
He had also contended that if only Prime Minister's photograph is allowed in government advertisements then it can be said that it would promote "personality cult" which has been described as "an anti-thesis of democracy" by this court only.
The AG had also said that the chief ministers and their cabinet colleagues too should be allowed to feature in advertisements.
The Centre, while seeking review, had earlier said that Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) of the Indian Constitution empowers the state and the citizens to "give and receive" information and it cannot be curtailed and regulated by the courts.
Other ministers and the chief ministers are also answerable to public and they cannot remain "faceless", he had said, adding that the apex court verdict has dealt with print advertisements only in the time where electronic and social media are also there.
The Centre had on 27 October, 2015 joined hands with several state governments in seeking review of the Supreme Court's judgement on the issue.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing NGO Common Cause which had filed the original PIL on review petitions moved by the states, had told the bench that certain state governments were violating the apex court's orders.
On 13 May, 2015, the apex court had passed a slew of directions including the order asking Centre to constitute a three-member committee "consisting of persons with unimpeachable neutrality and impartiality" to regulate the issue of public advertisements.