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Common Cause v. Union of India

In Progress Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    April 23, 2014
  • Outcome
    Provisional Measures/ Precautionary Measures for those who exercise FoE
  • Case Number
    (2014) 6 S.C.C. 552
  • Region & Country
    India, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship
  • Tags
    Elections, Public Advertising, Public Interest, Public Officials, Content-Based Restriction

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Supreme Court of India ruled that in the absence of any other law or policy, there was a need for the Court to lay down guidelines to check misuse of public funds by the government for political advertising. The NGOs Common Cause and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation  sought to restrain the central and state governments from using public funds for political advertising and asked the Supreme Court for guidance on this matter. The Court examined the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DVAP) and reasoned that it dealt only with eligibility and empanelment of newspapers, journals, and other media and their rates of payment, among other matters. The Court also referred to government advertising policies in Australia and Canada and concluded that there was a need for the Court to lay down substantive guidelines before the legislature enacts an appropriate law.


Facts

Common Cause filed writ petitions seeking mandamus to restrain the central and state governments from using public funds for political advertising and seeking Supreme Court guidelines on this matter. The Union of India argued that substantive guidelines regulating government advertisements had already been issued by the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DVAP), an agency of the Government of India, and thus Supreme Court guidelines were not required.


Decision Overview

P. Sathasivam, CJI, delivered the opinion of the Court. The Supreme Court of India examined the DVAP Advertisement Policy and concluded that it dealt only with eligibility and empanelment of newspapers, journals, and other media; and their rates of payment; among other matters. The policy stated that the DVAP will not take into account political affiliation or editorial policies of the media in releasing advertisements to them. There was no policy to regulate the content of government advertisements and to prevent misuse of public funds for political advertising.

The Court also referred to government advertising policies in Australia and Canada. It concluded that there is a need for the Court to lay down substantive guidelines before the legislature enacts an appropriate law. It composed a three-member committee to suggest guidelines on this matter to the Court.

The committee submitted its report in October, 2014. It recommended that advertisements should avoid glorification of political personalities, and framed guidelines to regulate expenditures and the content of such advertisements, and prevent arbitrary use of public funds to project particular personalities, parties, or governments without any attendant public interest. A Vaidyanathan, Stop Government’s Wasteful Newspaper Ads: Supreme Court Report, NDTV (Oct. 6, 2014).


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

Although the final decision is still pending, the Court recognized the need to check abuse and misuse of public funds by governments for political advertising that may not be in public interest. Even in the absence of legislation or executive policy on the matter, the Court took this role upon itself to guide policy in a suitable direction.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • India, Ali Khan v. Union of India, (2014) 7 S.C.C. 321
  • India, Umesh Mohan Sethi v. Union of India, W.P. (Civil) No. 2926 of 2012
  • India, Mahurkar v. Kinikar, A.I.R. (1961) Bom. 167

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Austl., Guidelines On Information and Advertising Campaigns by Australian Government Departments and Agencies

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Indian Supreme Court decisions are binding on all courts within the territory of India.

Official Case Documents

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