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SC keeps up ban on CM photos in gov ads, will hear in January

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to allow West Bengal and Assam to use photographs of their chief ministers and governors in government ads saying that it would hear in January the petitions including by the centre seeking the review of its verdict restricting use of photographs to those of the president, prime minister, and chief justice of India.

A bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose declined to pass any order as senior counsel Kapil Sibal seeking parity with the federal government pressed for the nod to use of the chief minister and governor’s photographs in state governments’ ads.

Declining the plea of Sibal, who had appeared for West Bengal and Assam government, the bench said that it would hear the batch of petitions seeking the review of its 13 May, 2015, order on 12 January, 2016.

The plea by the West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu assumes significance as three states are going to polls next year.

The plea by the central government and the six state governments seeking the recall of the 13 May order was opposed by the counsel Prashant Bhushan and Meera Bhatia who had appeared for the NGOs Centre for Public Interest Litigation and the Common Cause.

Bhatia said that they are opposed to any review of the 13 May order as they are even against the use of the prime minister’s photographs in government ads.

The apex court’s 13 May verdict had come on the plea by the NGOs CPIL, Common Cause and others pointing to widespread misuse of public funds for promoting leaders of the party in power.

Prior to the central government’s plea seeking the review of the 13 May order, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha had moved the court seeking recall of the order restricting the use of photographs to three constitutional functionaries in advertisements issued by the government and its agencies.

The court had also carved out exceptions, allowing use of the photographs of deceased leaders, including Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi.

While the central and the Uttar Pradesh government has sought the revisiting of the 13 May order in its entirety, other states had questioned it on the grounds of its being against the federal structure which gives parity between the centre and the states.

The state governments had contended that it was a judicial intrusion into policy making domain of the executive, and a party in power had the right to carry the chief minister’s photograph in government ads focusing on the achievements of the government.

The apex court by its 13 May verdict had however said: “Photographs have the potential of developing the personality cult and the image of a one or a few individuals which is a direct antithesis of democratic functioning.”

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