SC notice on plea against using public funds on govt advertisements

The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to Centre and state governments on a plea by NGO Common Cause seeking direction to prohibit state governments from publishing advertisements outside territory of their respective state, except when they are doing it to invite stakeholders for business summits/conclaves or to attract tourism, and private investments.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli issued notice after hearing detailed arguments by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Cheryl Dsouza, representing the NGO.

Bhushan argued that a direction should be passed to restrain governments from using public funds on government advertisements in ways that are completely malafide and arbitrary and amount to breach of trust, abuse of office, and violation of the directions/guidelines issued by the apex court.

He submitted that the apex court in its judgment passed on May 13, 2015, in Common Cause vs Union of India, had issued several guidelines aimed at regulating government advertisements in order to check the misuse of public funds by Central and state governments.

Bhushan contended that the sole intention behind the judgment was to restrain/prohibit public authorities from misusing public funds and to avoid unproductive expenditure of public funds on government advertisements.

“It is further submitted that the respondents have now devised ways and means through which government advertisements are being presently published and rolled out thereby effectively failing the very objective behind the judgment passed by this court,” the plea said.

It argued that the exercise of rolling out advertisements outside the territory of the state is disproportionate, unreasonable, not need-based, arbitrary and does not amount to obtaining maximum value for the taxpayer’s money, all of which are clear violations of the guidelines formulated by the apex court in its judgment.

The petition also sought a direction prohibiting the publication of government advertisements in the form of advertorials. “It is submitted before this court that several governments across the country are publishing advertisements in the form of ‘advertorials’ that are, by their very nature, designed to be deceptive and misleading, are against all journalistic ethics and therefore give rise to serious constitutional concerns and equally raises ethical and moral questions,” said the plea.

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