SC rejects PIL on use of public servants for ruling party’s electoral gains

It sought "enforcement of fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution to protect civil services and armed forces from being used as an arm of the ruling political party for its election campaign".

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to entertain a PIL seeking to quash a letter issued by the Controller General of Defence Accounts and DoPT’s office memorandum which seeks to use public servants to showcase the achievements of the government.

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A bench comprising Justices B R Gavai and Prashant Kumar Mishra took note of the submissions of lawyer Prashant Bhushan, and said it was not inclined to hear the “publicity interest litigation.”

Bhushan submitted that this is a serious matter where the ruling party wants to allegedly use public servants for the promotion of its work with the aim of getting benefits in upcoming elections.

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The bench, however, seemed disinclined to hear the PIL.

“The plea is dismissed as withdrawn with the liberty to the petitioner to approach the high court,” the bench ordered.

The PIL, filed by EAS Sarma and Jagdeep S Chhokar, sought setting aside the letter of October 9, 2023, of the Controller General of Defence Accounts of the Ministry of Defence “to Controllers of Defence Accounts of different regions on the subject: Development of selfie-points to showcase good works done/being done in MoD’ requesting that all selfie points as per targets may be installed immediately and that Action Taken Report may be forwarded to the said office immediately’ for onward transmission to Ministry.”

“The aforesaid impugned letter, dated 09.10.2020, may be read in conjunction with a Ministry of Defence’s order, which directed soldiers on annual leave to spend time on promoting government schemes, making them soldier-ambassadors’,” the plea said.

The PIL also assailed the office memorandum of October 17, 2023, of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) of the Central government.

The DoPT decided “to deploy joint secretaries/directors/deputy secretaries of GOI as district rath prabharis (Special Officers)’ for showcasing/ celebration of achievements of the last nine years of GOI, through Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra’, proposed to be organised across the country from November 20, 2023 to January 25, 2024.”

Besides seeking quashing of the letter and the office memorandum, the plea also sought a declaration that no ruling party at the Centre or state can use, directly or indirectly, any public servant for any campaign or promotion which is intended for its benefit.

The plea said it sought “enforcement of fundamental rights of the people of India under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution to protect civil services (“the steel frame”) and the armed forces from being used as an arm of the ruling political party for its election campaign”.

The actions of the government to deploy public servants to showcase the achievements not only violate several service rules but also disturb “free and fair elections with level playing field, which is an essential part of democracy”, it said.

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