IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 13 OF 2003
COMMON CAUSE ...PETITIONER (S)
UNION OF INDIA ...RESPONDENT (S)
W.P. (C) No. 197 of 2004
W.P. (C) No.302 of 2012
J U D G M E N T
RANJAN GOGOI, J.
1. Common Cause and Centre for Public Interest Litigation, two registered bodies, have approached this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution seeking an appropriate writ to restrain the Union of India and all State Governments from using public funds on Government advertisements which are primarily intended to project individual functionaries of the Government or a political party. The writ petitioners have also prayed for laying down of appropriate guidelines by this Court to regulate Government action in the matter so as to prevent misuse/wastage of public funds in connection with such advertisements.
2. In the above stated writ petitions the writ petitioners while conceding the beneficial effect of government advertisements which convey necessary information to the citizens with regard to various welfare and progressive measures as also their rights and entitlements, however, had contended that in the garb of communicating with the people, in many instances, undue political advantage and mileage is sought to be achieved by personifying individuals and crediting such individuals or political leaders (who are either from a political party or government functionaries) as being responsible for various government achievements and progressive plans. According to the petitioners such practice becomes rampant on the eve of the elections. Such advertisements not only result in gross wastage of public funds but constitute misuse of governmental powers besides derogating the fundamental rights of a large section of the citizens as guaranteed by Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
3. The writ petitions, filed as public interest litigations, were resisted by the Union of India primarily on the ground that the issues sought to be raised pertain to governmental policies and executive decisions in respect of which it may not be appropriate for this Court to lay down binding guidelines under Article 142. The decision of this Court in Manzoor Ali Khan & Anr. Vs. Union of India & Ors.1 and a pronouncement of the Delhi High Court in Umesh Mohan Sethi Vs. Union of India & Anr.2 have been relied upon by the Union in support of its above stated stand.
4. The issues arising in €the writ petitions were considered by this Court in an earlier round of exhaustive hearings. By order dated 23.04.2014, this Court, on consideration of the respective stands of the parties and by relying on the principles laid down in the decisions specifically referred to in the aforesaid order dated 23.04.2014, inter alia, held that there is no dispute that “primary cause of government advertisement is to use public funds to inform the public of their rights, obligations, and entitlements as well as to explain Government policies, programmes, services and initiatives.” It was further held that only such government advertisements which do not fulfil the above requisites will fall foul of the area of permissible advertisements. This Court acknowledged the fact that the dividing line between permissible advertisements that are a part of government messaging and advertisements that are “politically motivated” may at times gets blurred. As the materials laid before the Court by the parties were found to be inadequate for the purpose of evolving what would be the best practices keeping in view the prevailing scenario in other jurisdictions across the globe, this Court felt the necessity of constituting a Committee consisting of (1) Prof. (Dr.) N.R. Madhava Menon, former Director, National Judicial Academy, Bhopal (2) Mr. T.K. Viswanathan, former Secretary General, Lok Sabha and (3) Mr. Ranjit Kumar, Senior Advocate to go into the matter and submit a report to the Court.
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