Not Compelled Viewing, Not Captive Audience- Kerala HC Dismisses Plea Against PM's Photo On Vaccine Certificate With 1 Lakh Cost
The Kerala High Court had dismissed the Writ Petition filed seeking a direction to the Central Government to issue the Petitioner a COVID-19 vaccination certificate without the photograph of the Prime Minister, with a cost of Rupees One Lakh.
Justice P. V. Kunhikrishnan of the Kerala High Court had asked the Petitioner during the hearing as to why he is ashamed of the Prime Minister when 100 crore people of the country have no such issue. (read report)
The Petitioner in the case, Peter Myaliparampil claimed to be an RTI activist and an extension faculty of the Jawaharlal Nehru Leadership Institute, New Delhi.
In the Petition filed through Advocate Ajit Joy, the Petitioner had contended that the photograph of the Hon'ble Prime Minister in the Cowin portal is a needless intrusion into his private space. He had also contended that in the vaccination certificates of the United States of America, Indonesia, Israel, Kuwait, France, and Germany, those countries' Prime Minister's photo is not affixed.
Advocate S.Manu, Assistant Solicitor General of India appeared for the Respondents.
The primary contention of the Petitioner has been summarised by the Court as follows:-
"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 Hon'ble Prime Minister and his message. It is argued by the counsel that the State in its messaging, especially while addressing a captive audience has a right not to compel listening from those unwilling. In other words, the counsel submitted that the petitioner has a free speech right protected by Article 19 of the Constitution of India against compulsory and forced listening."
The ASG submitted that the photograph in the vaccination certificate is with a message and that there is nothing wrong in giving a message by the Prime Minister of the country to the nation through a vaccination certificate.
On the objection to the usage of the Photograph of the PM, the Court found the objection on the ground of privacy "fantastic". The Court observed as follows:-
"What a fantastic argument! Is he not living in this country? The Prime Minister of India is not a person who entered the parliament house by breaking the roof of the parliament building. He came to power because of the mandate of the people. The Indian democracy is being praised by the world. The Prime Minister is elected because he has got people's mandate. Till the general election is over, the citizen can campaign based on their political view. Once the election is over and the majority of people gave a mandate to a political party which leads to the election of Prime Minister, he is not the leader of that political party but he is a leader of the country. There can be grievances against the policies of the Government. There can be political differences with the views of the Prime Minister. But those views can be raised in a democratic manner. In the next general election, they can make use of it and remove him with people's mandate. But once a Prime Minister is elected as per the constitution, he is the Hon'ble Prime Minister of our country and that post should be the pride of every citizen, whether the Prime Minister is "X" or "Y". When the country is facing a pandemic situation and at that time, the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, gave a message in the vaccination certificate with his photographs to boost the morale of the citizen, I do not understand why the petitioner says before this Court that it is an intrusion to his privacy. This argument is to be rejected in limine and according to me, these kinds of arguments ought not to have been raised by citizens of the country who knows about our nation and its history."
The Court noted that the Petitioner had no answer to the question about the use of the name of Jawaharlal Nehru in the name of the institute where he is working. "According to my opinion, from the conduct of the petitioner, it is clear that he is trying to do a publicity oriented litigation instead of genuine litigation with a cause", Court noted.
The Court rejected the arguments about compelled viewing by stating that the State can override the listener's free speech rights and impose a viewpoint based message if the State's interest is compelling, such as preventing harm to others and its means are narrowly tailored.
The Court held that the morale boosting message to his fellow citizens by the Prime Minister cannot be said to come within the four corners of right against 'compelled listening or viewing'.
The Court also held that those reading the certificate will not come under the category of a captive audience and that "if the petitioner does not want to see his Prime Minister or if he is ashamed to see the picture of his Prime Minister, he can avert his eyes to the bottom side of the vaccine certificate".
The Court deprecated the trend to paint all politicians as corrupt. The Court observed, "Therefore, according to me, it is the duty of the citizens to respect the Prime Minister of India, and of course, they can differ on the policies of the Government and even the political stand of the Prime Minister."
The Court found that Writ Petition has been filed with ulterior motives and expressed doubt there being a political agenda behind the Petition. "According to me, this is a publicity oriented litigation.", the Court held.
The Court also considered the burden on the docket of the Court caused by such petitions while dismissing the Petition with a cost of Rupees One Lakh to be paid to the Kerala State Legal Services Authority (KELSA).