The central government on Wednesday opposed restricting use of the prime minister's photographs in government advertisements, while telling the Supreme Court that in a federal polity, the position of chief ministers or union ministers was in no way less than that of the prime minister.
"If the prime minister can be shown in the government advertisements, there is no reasons why photos of the chief minister can't be shown. If there has to be the prime minister's photo, then chief minister is equally important," it maintained.
Contending that the right to give information and the right to receive information under constitution's article 19(1)(a) could only restricted by a law framed under article 19(2), Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose that the rights under article 19(1)(a) could not be restricted by a judicial order.
Seeking the recall of its May 13, 20215, verdict, he also sought that the entire matter be referred to a larger bench for fresh consideration, which Assam and Karnataka have also sought.
The court was told this as it reserved order on a batch of petitions by the central government, Assam, Karnataka, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu seeking the recall of its May 13, 2015 verdict restricting the use of photographs to the president, prime minister, and chief justice of India in the government ads.
It also issued notice to Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi and Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu on a contempt plea for violating its verdict by issuing advertisement aimed to promote the two chief ministers and for political messaging.
The court also reserved its order on a review plea by NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), seeking exclusion of the prime minister's photograph also as it was being "grossly misused".
Appearing for the CPIL, counsel Prashant Bhushan said "order permitting prime minister's photographs is being grossly misused and same should be dropped".
Earlier, Rohatgi contended that the chief ministers held the same position in the states as the prime minister in the national context and admitted that in the earlier hearing leading to May 13, 2015, verdict, the centre's counsel failed to highlight the issue in proper perspective.
Developing his case for permitting the use of the ministers' photographs in the government advertisements, he said though "prime minister is first among equals (but) prime minister is also a minister".
He also advocated permitting the use of bureaucrats' pictures in government advertisements which are department centric.
Pointing to the significance of the visuals in the advertisements, Rohatgi said that without visuals, an advertisement would be like notice inviting tenders which nobody reads.
Supporting the position taken by the Attorney General, senior counsel Kapil Sibal appearing for Assam cited the vast and uncontrolled reach of social media and decline in the reach of print media to buttress his point that court's order could not be complied with in its entirety.
Agreeing with the court's concern over the misuse of public money for political promotion and purposes, he however said: "Without interaction, the government can't function. Economic and social planning would require dissemination of information."