New Delhi: The Supreme Court has today said that government ads can feature pictures of only the Prime Minister, the President, and the Chief Justice of India, but said, "Even these three personalities will have to approve whether their photos will be there."
The verdict applies to the frequent ads that are placed by the centre and state governments to publicize schemes.
"Photos have the potential of developing personality cult," said the top court, clarifying that party symbols and flags cannot be used in ads.
Today's ruling means that Chief Ministers and Governors cannot feature in government ads. The top court has also appointed a committee of three members to ensure that the new guidelines are not violated. "Advertisement materials should be objective and not directed at promoting political interests of ruling party," the judges said.
The new guidelines kick in just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is about to mark its first year in office. The top court said their instructions will stand till parliament clears a law or policy for government ads.
Today's verdict was based on petitions filed by NGOs including that of lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, which said taxpayer's money was being spent liberally on gaining political mileage.
In recent years, acting on Mr Bhushan's petition, the Supreme Court has cautioned the government to curb excessive spending on publicising its schemes as well as glorifying political leaders with ads placed to mark their birth or death anniversaries.
In February, the Centre had argued in court that the Supreme Court should not interfere with how the government communicates with the public. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi argued, "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."