Petition to restrain the use of public funds for political campaigning through government advertisements
State governments across the country have started to roll out extensive advertisement campaigns outside the territory of their respective states for projecting personalities and promoting particular parties without the interest of the target audience or prime beneficiaries of that government’s achievements, policies and welfare measures.
Common Cause filed the petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, seeking appropriate directions in the form of writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ/orders or directions to the Respondents to restrain them from using public funds on government advertisements in ways that are completely malafide and arbitrary and amount to breach of trust, abuse of office, violation of the directions/guidelines issued by this court and violation of fundamental rights of citizens under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
The Supreme Court in its judgment dated 13-05-2015 in Common Cause vs. Union of India (2015) 7 SCC 1, had issued several guidelines aimed at regulating government advertisements in order to check the misuse of public funds by central and state governments. The five principles of those guidelines were as follows:
- Advertising campaigns are to be related to government responsibilities,
- Materials should be presented in an objective, fair and accessible manner and designed to meet objectives of the campaign,
- Not directed at promoting political interests of a Party,
- Campaigns must be justified and undertaken in an efficient and cost-effective manner and
- Advertisements must comply with legal requirements and financial regulations and procedures
The objectives behind rolling out these guidelines, as pointed out in the judgment dated 13-05-2015, were as follows:
- To prevent arbitrary use of public funds for advertising by public authorities to project particular personalities, parties or governments without any attendant public interest
- neither to belittle the need nor to deny the authority of the Union and State Governments and its agencies to disseminate information necessary for public to know on the policies and programmes of Government but only to exclude the possibility of any misuse of public funds on advertisement campaigns in order to gain political mileage by the political establishment;
- to address the gap in the existing DAVP Guidelines which only deal with the eligibility and empanelment of newspapers/journals or other media, their rates of payment, and such like matters and not on how to regulate the content of Government advertisements;
- to ensure that “all government activities satisfy the test of reasonableness and public interest, particularly while dealing with public funds and property”;
- to ensure that government messaging is well co-ordinate, effectively managed in the best democratic traditions and is responsive to the diverse information needs of the public.
It is submitted that six specific issues that are being brought to the notice of this Hon’ble Court by way of this petition are as follows:
- Publication of advertisements by state governments outside the territorial limits of their respective states
- Publication of government advertisements in the form of ‘advertorials’
- Publication of government advertisements during/prior to the elections
- Issues concerning the ‘Committee on Content Regulation of Government Advertisements’ (CCRGA)
- Publication of Photographs of functionaries on Government Advertisements
- Advertisements in the name of Awareness Campaigns