The Supreme Court Monday sought responses from the Centre and the states on a plea seeking to restrain state governments from publishing advertisements outside its territory. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli issued notices to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and all the states.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by NGO Common Cause seeking directions to restrain state governments from publishing advertisements outside its territory. At the outset, the bench expressed disinclination to entertain the petition but after a brief deliberation, it decided to seek a response from the respondents.
How can we prohibit a state government from publishing an advertisement outside the territory? the bench said.
A state government may want to attract business to its territory by showcasing the work to the public of other states. They want to attract investment and say we are creating this infrastructure of roads, power, tourism, etc, it said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, submitted that the advertisements issued by the states have nothing to do with attracting investments rather it’s a mere projection strategy of great work.
Public funds are meant for public welfare and not partisan political advertising, Bhushan said adding that such advertisements are being published at the time of elections.
He said a political party in power cannot use the money of the government to publicise its achievements and it has to use the party funds.
The bench then responded, “that’s a democracy, Mr Bhushan. Public representatives are entitled to tell the country that we are so good. How do we stop them? That is the heart and soul of the nation. Politics is a competitive space."
Bhushan said the second aspect is that advertorials are being disguised to look like news and this cannot be allowed. The top court said every government issues a press statement to inform the people about its decisions.
“If they put that in state magazine, it is a method of dissemination of information. In my childhood, I remember, people used to go to towns and villages with loudspeakers. Now politics is also changing. People are more educated… So, if they want to appeal to the masses or readers of newspapers what is the problem? I wonder whether the court should step in this at all," Justice Chandrachud observed.
Elaborating by an example, Bhushan submitted that COVID relief being given in the national capital is being advertised in states where the election is to be held. The bench then proceeded to issue a notice in the matter.