Delhi High Court Seeks Centre's Stand On PIL Against Use Of Defence Officers & Civil Servants To Highlight Govt's Achievements
The Delhi High Court on Monday sought stand of the Union Government on a public interest litigation against the use of Defence officers and Civil Servants to highlight the schemes and achievements of the ruling government of last 9 years, alleging it is a “political propaganda.”A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Mini Pushkarna granted time to Additional...
The Delhi High Court on Monday sought stand of the Union Government on a public interest litigation against the use of Defence officers and Civil Servants to highlight the schemes and achievements of the ruling government of last 9 years, alleging it is a “political propaganda.”
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Mini Pushkarna granted time to Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma appearing for the Union Government to obtain instructions in the matter and listed it for hearing next on January 05, 2024.
The plea has been filed by former civil servant EAS Sarma and President of Association of Democratic Reforms, Jagdeep S Chhokar. They are represented by Advocate Prashant Bhushan.
The petitioners have challenged an order issued by the Controller General of Defence Accounts on October 09 regarding deployment of defence officers at “selfie points” to show case good works done by MoD.
They have also challenged the OM issued by Union Government's Department of Personnel and Training on October 17 to deploy Joint Secretaries, Directors and Deputy Secretaries as “District Rath Prabharis” for showcasing achievements of last 9 years of the Government of India.
During the hearing today, Advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for the petitioners submitted that the use of Defence officers and civil servants is prohibited under the rules governing conduct of government servants and also amounts to using them for promoting interest of a political party.
“Here you are seeking to use them for political propaganda. That falls foul of the rules and code of conduct for government servants. It would amount to corrupt practice under the Representation of Peoples Act,” Bhushan said.
He added that the act is a blatant use of defence officers and civil servants for “propaganda agenda” of the government and is against the letter and spirit of the Representation of Peoples Act which makes it a corrupt practice to use any government official for political purposes.
Hearing the same, Acting Chief Justice Manmohan orally told Bhushan: “There is a large number of ignorance in the society today. Maybe for example [by this] someone gets to know that the pension scheme is available and i should go there….Every newspaper today, when there is no election code in force, there are snaps of Chief Ministers or the Prime Minister on each advertisement.”
The bench however said that such an act cannot be permitted during the time when the model code of conduct is in force.
“In the model code of conduct, it is wrong certainly. During that period it cannot be. But…every person wants to be aware of the latest scheme of the government. It is not that someone wants to know what happened 50 year ago…,” the court said.
As Bhushan specifically mentioned the issue of highlighting achievements of the last 9 years of the Government, the court remarked:
“We'll put this to them…You see recently when the miners were trapped in the tunnel, the Indian Army and NDRF did a phenomenal job. Newspapers carried the story that mountain was moved…. If the Indian Army wants to popularize it with selfie point, I don't think it would be an issue. No party symbol is there… there has to be some connection , it cannot be a 50 year old scheme.“
It added: “Disseminating information about popular schemes may not be falling foul of this [model code of conduct].”
On this, Bhushan said that even the photographs of the Prime Minister is used for promotion and highlighting of Government's achievements by the public servants.
The court then said: “Isn't this a norm, irrespective of the political party? Every Chief Minister is giving photo [in newspapers]. They are doing it. It is a larger issue which you are raising.”
On the other hand, ASG Chetan Sharma opposed the plea and said the plea has been filed on the assumption that the Government of India is a political party and that every person has the right to know and be informed about the schemes and benefits.
“Government of India and [political] party are two things. Party is not mentioned in the petition anywhere. It is pure government. We will get detailed instructions in the matter,” ASG said.
The petitioners have sought a direction that no political party, either at Centre or State, can use any public servant for any campaign or promotion of its schemes which is intended for benefit of the ruling party.
Title: EAS Sarma & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors.