The Delhi High Court disposed of a PIL challenging public advertisements issued by the Delhi government wishing citizens Christmas, allegedly to promote the political interests of the Aam Aadmi party.
The divisional bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Judge Jyoti Singh noted that representation in this regard is already awaiting consideration before the Committee on the Regulation of Content in Governmental Advertising (CCRGA), formed on the instructions of the Supreme Court.
So he ordered,
“A committee is already set up by the Supreme Court. The petitioner has already preferred representation before the said committee and the same is awaiting consideration. Therefore, we see no reason to consider this petition in brief.“
However, the Applicant is free to address the appropriate forum in the event of a grievance arising from the provision of representation.
The public interest dispute was filed by Lawyer Kumar Piyush Pushkar, appearing in person.
He alleged that the Delhi government ran advertisements, bearing the photographs of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wishing citizens Christmas around the country, also in almost all mainstream newspapers, including local newspapers.
However, it is alleged that this exercise was done simply to broaden the political base of the Aam Aadmi party and that the advertisements were not even remotely related to the public interest.
“When every other day either group protests for their monthly salary, when municipal corporations and their employees protest to claim their funds, such embezzlement of public money is completely unnecessary,“, we argued.
The applicant further alleged that these advertisements were published in total disregard of the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in Common Cause v. Union of India, WP (Civil) No. 13 of 2003 and Center for Public Interest Litigation Vs. Indian Union, WP (Civil) No. 194 of 2004.
He stressed that the purpose of the Supreme Court guidelines is to prevent “the arbitrary use of public funds” for advertising by public authorities to “screen particular figures, parties or governments”, “without any resulting public interest “.
In addition, in accordance with guidelines, he submitted, government advertising may only be published for the purpose of informing citizens of their rights and responsibilities, government policies or dangers or risks to public health, safety or the environment.
“In this case, the advertisement did not serve any of the purposes mentioned above,“said the plea.
Pushkar added that government advertising campaigns must be justified and undertaken in an efficient and cost-effective manner. However, he alleged that the same was not done in this case.
The petitioner therefore prayed to prevent the Delhi government from using public funds for advertisements which are primarily intended to screen individual officials, and to order an audit to verify the objectivity, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the disputed advertisements. .
An ordinance has been sought ordering the Delhi government to collect and deposit public money wasted on such advertising into the treasury by securing liability against those responsible.
In addition, it was requested that the CCRGA be tasked with acquiring knowledge of the alleged violations and initiating appropriate proceedings against the respondent, the Delhi government, within a specified time frame.
Senior Lawyer Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government ahead of time, made three-part observations:
1. The petitioner approached the court with unclean hands as he did not disclose in the petition that he was a television panelist for the Bhartiya Janta party. “This is a politically motivated petition,“he alleged.
2. The complainant has explored the alternative remedy by filing a complaint with the CCRGA and the matter is pending examination.
3. Delhi government disputed advertisements do not violate Supreme Court judgment as they are not political advertisements, they do not propagate any political party, but simply greet citizens, reflecting secular government.
Case title: Kumar Piyush Pushkar v. GNCTD & Ors.
Quote: 2022 LiveLaw (Del.) 16