The Apex court has finally restrained netas from splurging tax-payers money on political advertisements.

You can kiss goodbye to those tacky, full-page print advertisements issued by politicians of all hues with taxpayers money. They cut such a sorry figure – a mug shot of the junior politician, juxtaposing a bigger profile of his political boss in an attempt to woo, whom? The electorate, whose money is being so ruthlessly abused? The party bigwigs in a show of political sycophancy? Or is it an ego-massage for the politician in question before friends, family, fans and foes? It’s anyone’s guess.

Often there is no purpose to such self-aggrandizing exercise, except for announcing an upcoming project or sometimes, an existing scheme of the government of the ruling dispensation. Breaching norms that should govern political usage of these funds, such adverts serve the interests of the political parties more than they serve the interests of the masses.

Those may however be serving the interest of media houses that have to be rewarded for toeing the government line, and are willing to devote precious news print to such shallow exercises.  At times, the print adverts also get mounted on billboards at busy terminuses to grab eyeballs – but do they really?

To be sure, such ads don’t ever raise any public awareness. For that, there are hundred other weightier subjects to craft a campaign on, such as:

  1. An awareness drive for distraught farmers advising them on what steps to take in dealing with drought situations or
  2. Those that are meant to create awareness about a girl child’s education under the Right to Education (RTE).

When was the last time you saw such an advert in mainstream newspaper?

The scenario is much worse down south where personality-based commerce is a thriving practice. In Tamil Nadu, they place mugs of local politicians on water bottles, gunny bags at fair price shops or bus shelters. Once a national daily came wrapped in a full-page jacket advertisements of Jayalalithaa to commemorate her “One Year of Achievements – Hundred Years leap forward.” The grapevine had it that the state ended up spending Rs 15 crore on these series.

Supreme Court’s judgment of May 14th has ruled that no more than one advertisement can be issued to commemorate national heroes on Republic and Independence Days.

The government has predictably opposed the move, on the ground that it amounts to pre-censorship, and would therefore imply a breach of another right – the right to the freedom of speech.  The issue was first raised by The Central Information Commission that asked the government to explain what are their specific policies on government advertisements. This followed an RTI filed by noted activist Subhash Agarwal citing a Delhi Lokayukta’s directive on the same practice.

In its order, the CIC observed that “people have a right to know the policy on ‘political publicity’ being funded by taxpayers.” later, the SC panel also recommended that such advertisements must avoid photos of ministers and political leaders, except for the President, Prime Minister, Governor and Chief Minister but that too must be done sparingly. The panel also recommended an Ombudsman to check such blatant  misuse of taxpayers’ money.

Are you in sync with this decision? Share your comments and observations.

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