New Delhi, Aug 22:
The Delhi High Court Friday sought response from the Delhi government on a plea seeking to set aside guidelines banning “political advertisements” on public service vehicles (PSVs).
A division bench of Justice B.D. Ahmed and Justice Vibhu Bakhru asked the Delhi government to file response on the plea of the auto union opposing the guidelines issued by the transport department and approved by Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung May 19.
The new guidelines specify the system of approvals for advertisements and the areas where they can be displayed. Advertisements cannot be displayed without approval from municipal bodies and are allowed only for vehicles having GPS/GPRS systems.
The bench questioned the government step to allow advertisements only for auto rickshaws having GPS/GPRS systems and pre-censorship of advertisements by civic bodies.
“There can’t be any pre-censorship,” the bench said, asking the government to remove the word “political” from the guidelines under which political advertisements can’t be carried on vehicles.
Advocate Zubeda Begum appearing for the Delhi government said she will take instructions and file a detailed response on the issue.
The bench also said that the government can’t stop them (auto rickshaws) from putting up the advertisements as there was a stay order of the court on the government’s decision barring autos from putting advertisements.
“As of today they (autos) can advertise freely because of the stay order,” the court said.
During the hearing, advocate Pranav Sachdeva appearing for the auto union told the court the guidelines interfere with the right of smaller political parties to express their political views via advertisements on auto-rickshaws, etc., a much cheaper medium for expressing political speech.
Sachdeva objected to the transport department’s move to ban posters carrying any political expression, saying the order was “discriminatory” since the Motor Vehicles Act allows government to only regulate and not prohibit advertisements on vehicles.
The guidelines said approvals will not be granted if the advertisement contains “political, ethnic, religious or sectarian text”.
The petition pleaded the court to allow auto-rickshaw drivers to display advertisements or social messages on their vehicles carrying political content.
Saying that guidelines have been notified at the instance of major ruling political parties, the plea contended that larger political parties have means and “they spent lakhs and crores (of rupees) on advertisements to express their views to the public”.
“The guidelines suffer from mala fide as it has been finalised and notified at the instance of major ruling parties in an attempt to interfere with the constitutional rights of the smaller political parties,” the plea said.
“It is only the small political parties who face difficulty to mete out such huge expenses and rather choose cheaper method to convey their political ideas at large,” it added.
Apart from political advertisements, those on sale of alcohol or tobacco products or those that refer to violence, indecency, obscenity, cruelty to animals or promotion of any racist or sectarian behaviour have also been banned.
The rules also state that no reflective material, psychedelic or moving displays can be used for the advertisements. PSVs in Delhi include all public transport options from rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, taxis, school buses and buses run by contractors or the Delhi Transport Corporation.
In June last year, the former Sheila Dikshit government courted controversy by banning advertisements on PSVs after auto-rickshaws started sporting Aam Aadmi Party posters in the run-up to the Delhi elections.