A writ petition has been filed before the Kerala High Court challenging the photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi being affixed on the vaccination certificates issued to the citizens upon being vaccinated against Covid-19.
Justice P.B Suresh Kumar admitted the plea on Friday and posted the matter to be taken up two weeks later.
The petitioner is a senior citizen of India and an RTI activist. He received a paid COVID-19 vaccination from a private hospital. Soon he received his certificate as proof for the vaccination, which bore the photograph of the Prime Minister of India along with a message.
Aggrieved by the same, he moved the Court through Advocate Ajit Joy raising the following issues:
Whether any public interest is served by affixing the photograph of the Prime Minister in a Covid Vaccination certificate.
The petitioner argued that no public interest is served by affixing the photograph of the Prime Minister in a Covid Vaccination certificate. Removing this photograph from the certificate will not lead to any harm either to the state or to any policy of the government.
“It is a certificate issued merely to confirm the status of vaccination of a person. The photograph of the Hon’ble Prime Minister has no relevance in such a certificate as can be seen from such certificates issued by other countries. Any additional messaging or motivation in a certificate is irrelevant as the recipient of the certificate is already convinced of its utility and has taken the vaccination voluntarily. Further messaging in a certificate is no more than ‘preaching to the converted.'”
Whether the State can impose speech on the petitioner within the private space of a certificate recording his medical information.
The plea has raised an interesting argument on this issue. It alleges that when the government issues a certificate, the recipient of the certificate is no more than a captive audience. The petitioner as a captive audience is not in a position to avoid the objectionable speech and is forced to be subject to it, here in the form of the photograph of the Prime Minister and his message.
The State while addressing a captive audience has a duty not to compel listening from those unwilling, according to the petitioner. In other words, the petitioner has a right to free speech as protected under Article 19 against compulsory and forced listening.
To describe the same, a table was also drawn up in the petition. The same has been reproduced below for clarity.
As such, it is contended that the photograph of the Prime Minister on the petitioner’s certificate violates his fundamental rights as a listener and a viewer corresponding to box 4 and 6 in the given table.
Further, it is added that the certificate issued to the petitioner, in his name, having his personal details and the details of a medical record, is his private space.
“The State has no right to access that space, any more than the petitioner consents to it. In the present case, the petitioner has not only not consented but has represented to the 1st respondent that it be removed and he be issued with a certificate without the photograph of the Hon’ble Prime Minister.”
Whether the petitioner is entitled to receive a certificate without the photograph of the Prime Minister, especially as he has purchased the vaccine.
The petitioner alleged that he had paid for his vaccination and that there was no subsidy or largesse of the government in providing the vaccination.
“In fact, it was the non-availability of free vaccine slots that led to the petitioner opting for the paid vaccination. The state has no right to claim the credit by inserting a photograph of the Hon’ble Prime Minister in the certificate issued to a paid vaccine recipient. Even if the photograph of the Hon’ble Prime Minister carries with it a mere motivational message, the petitioner wants to be spared of it.”
Whether the Centre’s campaign against COVID-19 projecting the Prime Minister adversely affects the freedom of vote of the petitioner.
Citing Common Cause v Union of India [WP (Civil) No. 13 of 2003], the petitioner argued that no individual can be credited for the launching of an initiative or be celebrated for achievements of a certain policy of the state at government expense.
On this ground, the petitioner contended that projecting the photograph of the Prime Minister in the entire COVID-19 campaign in every Vaccination certificate flies in the face of the guidelines issued in the aforesaid decision.
“Government messaging should not be one that personifies a leader, like the Hon’ble Prime Minister. Apart from being the leader of the country, he is also the leader of a political party, active in day-to-day politics. Campaigns with government funds ought to be as far as possible content-neutral. The present COVID-19 campaign appears to be designed to garner a political advantage by projecting a positive image of the Hon’ble Prime Minister. This government-sponsored campaign affects both the personal decision-making process and the decision taken by the petitioner as a voter,” the plea reads.
Accordingly, the petitioner sought a declaration that the photograph of the Prime Minister on the COVID-19 vaccination certificate of the petitioner is a violation of his fundamental rights.
Additionally, the petitioner has prayed that he may be issued with a Covid-19 vaccination certificate without the Prime Minister’s photograph affixed on it along with access to the COWIN platform, to generate such a certificate when needed.