Oral Order: (Ninala Jayasurya, J)
1. The present writ petition is filed by way of Public Interest Litigation seeking a direction to “declare the G.O.MS.No.623 dated 23.04.2020 issued by the Respondent No.1 directing its Officers to paint the Village Panchayat Office buildings / sachivalayams with the colours mentioned therein which are akin to ruling Y.S.R.C party flag as unconstitutional, illegal, evil practice and contrary to the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 as well as orders in W.P. (PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 dated 10.03.2020 and consequently quash the G.O.MS.No.623 dated 23.04.2020 issued by the Respondents and pass such other order or orders as this Court may deem fit and proper in the circumstances of the case.”
2. The present Public Interest Litigation Petition came to be filed against the background of the earlier Public Interest Litigation Petitions vide W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 filed before this Court, inter alia, questioning the action of the Government in painting the Government buildings/Panchayat office buildings with the colours akin to ruling Y.S.R.C party flag, which are Green, White and Blue colour combinations/theme, and the orders passed by this Court dated 10.03.2020 in the said P.I.Ls.
3. After considering the submissions made on behalf of the respective parties in the said P.I.Ls, this Court while passing the orders opined, inter alia, that communication of the message by painting Panchayat buildings in the same colour of the party flag, as well the party office create impression of similarity to YSRCP and also influence the mind of the common citizen towards its ideology.
4. This Court while dealing with the issues that fell for consideration formulated the points for examination, one among which is relevant in the present context reads thus:
Q.3) Whether the paint of the colours on the Gram Panchayat buildings, resembling the flag of ruling YSCRP in furtherance to the Government Memo No.PRR01- PR0PPAN(MISC)/ 192/2019 Dt.11.08.2019, is permissible in view of the judgment of Common Cause supra?”
Answering the said question, in the light of the Judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Common Cause v. Union of India (2015) 7 SCC 1), this Court after thorough examination of the matter with material available on record, categorically held that “the action of the Government in painting the same colours on the Panchayat buildings, resembling the colours of party flags and colours of offices by using of public money, does not qualify the test of reasonableness and when such painting on the Panchayat buildings is being made on the eve of Panchayat elections, it would amount to evil practice and fall within the purview of violation of the election laws and that such an action on the part of the Government is unjust, arbitrary, unreasonable and contrary to the spirit of the Judgement in Common Cause case. This Court also observed at Para 55 of the said Judgment that “as and when any political party comes into power in the State, they are in the habit of painting the buildings of the Panchayat or other Government buildings akin to the colours of their party flag and such practices must be stopped.” It was further opined that “the acts of the officials to propose painting of the Panchayat buildings akin to the colours of the flag and office of the political parties approved by Government tantamount to mis-utilization of the Government money by use of Government properties for political gain, which violates the election laws and also amounting to violation of the rule of law in the State.”
5. Thus, this Court making its mind clear in no uncertain terms, while disapproving the impugned action of the Government, allowed the said Public Interest Litigation Petitions and issued directions at Para 56 of the Judgment. All the said directions (i) to (vii) are relevant and may be extracted hereunder:
“i) The Government Memo No.PRR01-PR0PPAN(MISC)/ 192/2019 Dt.11.08.2019 issued by the Principal Secretary to Government approving the proposal of the Commissioner dated 08.08.2019 to paint the buildings of the Gram Panchayat with the colours of Image-I, is hereby quashed.
ii) The respondents are restrained to paint the Government buildings/Panchayat buildings similar to the colours of the flags of the parties or the party offices by use of public money. (emphasis supplied)
iii) The respondents are directed to remove the colours painted on the Panchayat buildings in furtherance of their Memo dated 11.08.2019 within 10 (Ten) days from today, atleast prior to the elections of the Panchayat. The directions be issued, forthwith, by the respondent No.1/Principal Secretary to the Government, in this regard.
iv) The Chief Secretary of the State shall ensure the compliance of the directions and submit a compliance report within 2 (two) weeks to the Registrar (Judicial) of this Court. Failure to submit the same may entail the responsibility of Respondent No.1 including the Chief Secretary.
v) The Chief Secretary is further directed to formulate the guidelines to specify suitable colour combination for painting the Panchayat/Government buildings and other properties belonging to the Government as well as local bodies and authorities; which should not be similar to the colours of the flags and office of political parties. (emphasis supplied) Prior to the election, the panchayat buildings, if any are painted in furtherance of the Memo dated 11.08.2019, such colours shall be removed or repaint by the colour theme, so decided by the Chief Secretary.
vi) The State Election Commission is directed to hold free and fair election of the local bodies, and to take appropriate steps, in the State without allowing to adopt the evil practices, by any of the party.
vii) The State Election Commission shall issue fresh guidelines akin to the guidelines issued by the Central Election Commission, which is based on the judgments of the Supreme Court as well as various High Courts.
6. The State Government, against the said Judgment of this Court carried the matter by filing petitions for Special Leave to Appeal to the Honb’e Supreme Court, vide Special Leave Petition (Civil) Nos.6384-6385 of 2020. The Apex Court was not inclined to entertain the S.L.Ps and dismissed the same by order dated 23.03.2020, observing as thus:
“We see no reason to entertain these petitions. Accordingly, the special leave petitions are dismissed.”
Thus, the orders passed by this Court in W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 dated 10.03.2020 have become final.
7. The directions issued in the aforesaid P.I.Ls., in brief, were the Government Memo dated 11.08.2019 approving the proposal of the Commissioner, Panchayat Raj & Rural Development, dated 08.08.2019 regarding painting of Gram Panchayat buildings, was quashed, restraining the Government to paint the Government buildings/panchayat buildings similar to the colours of the flags of the parties or the party offices by use of public money; and a direction to remove the same forthwith be issued by the Principal Secretary to the Government and the Chief Secretary shall ensure compliance of the directions and it be submitted within two weeks, otherwise they shall entail responsibility of non-compliance, and the Chief Secretary shall issue guidelines specifying suitable colour combination which should not be similar to the colours of the flags and offices of the political parties.
8. Subsequent to the dismissal of the above said S.L.Ps. and because sufficient time for implementation of the directions (iii) and (iv) was not there; however, the State Government, by filing I.A.Nos.3 and 4 in W.P.(PIL).No.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020, sought for extension of time to comply the said directions. The Additional Advocate General has conceded that the elections may be held only after removal of the paintings on the panchayat buildings and at present, the election has been suspended on account of COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, after hearing, this Court, vide order dated 20.04.2020, granted extension of time subject to certain directions, which are as under:
1) The removal of the colours painted on the Panchayat buildings, as directed by this Court vide order dated 10.03.2020 in W.P.(PIL).Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020, be made within three weeks immediate from the date of lifting of the lock down, as undertaken by the learned Additional Advocate General.
2) The elections of the panchayats, which is suspended, shall commence only after complying the above condition No.1 and an affidavit in this regard be filed within three weeks by the Panchayat Secretary and the Chief Secretary, before the Registrar (Judicial) of this Court.
3) The State Election Commission is directed that until the order passed by this Court has been complied with, the election notification for the local bodies shall not be issued, because conducting free and fair elections is its prime function.
9. In the meanwhile, on dismissal of S.L.Ps by the Apex Court, the State Government in purported compliance with the orders of this Court vide G.O.Rt.No.203 Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (MDLS-I) dated 02.04.2020 constituted a committee to look into various colour themes for Panchayat/Government buildings and other properties belonging to the Government, as well as local bodies and to submit their recommendations. Thereafter, the Government on the basis of recommendations of the said committee, issued orders vide G.O.MS.No.622 Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (MDL-I), dated 23.04.2020 dealing with the guidelines for painting all Panchayat/Government buildings and other properties belonging to Government as well as corporations, local bodies and authorities of Government of Andhra Pradesh. Simultaneously, Government issued G.O.MS.No.623 Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (MDL-I), dated 23.04.2020 dealing with the guidelines on colour combination/theme for painting of Gram Panchayat buildings separately.
10. Challenging the said G.O.MS.No.623, Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (MDL-I), dated 23.04.2020, the present Public Interest Litigation Petition is filed. On the first date of hearing of this petition, i.e., on 05.05.2020, this Court sought response and explanation from respondents 1 to 3 why the same colours of the flag of YSRC party, i.e., White, Green and Blue, are selected in addition to Terra Cotta colour, which prima facie, appears to be contrary to the direction Nos.(ii), (iv) and (v), and why compliance of the said directions has not been made by the Chief Secretary and the Principal Secretary of the Department of the State and why contempt proceedings be not initiated separately for such noncompliance. Thus, justification along with response was sought. By filing response, the respondents have justified their action making reference to the contents of G.O.Ms.Nos.622 and 623 dated 23.04.2020 and urged that their action is just and bona fide and not in defiance to the Court order.
11. Before dealing with the contentions raised by both sides, for the sake of immediate reference, the relevant portion of both the G.Os dealing with the guidelines applicable for painting on all Panchayat/Government buildings and guidelines on colour combination/theme for painting of Gram Panchayat buildings may be extracted hereunder:
“G.O.MS.No.622 Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (MDL-I), dated 23.04.2020:
“(4) (iv). It shall be specifically ensured that the colour combination for painting the buildings and other properties should not be similar to the colours of the flags and office of political parties.”
G.O.MS.No.623 Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (MDL-I), dated 23.04.2020:
“5) The Gram Panchayat Buildings must reflect the common agrarian nature of the State. The colours, which reflect the prominence and socio-economic conditions of the Rural Andhra Pradesh such as Soil, Agriculture, Aqua and Dairy etc., should be the main components of the colour combinations of the Gram Panchayat Buildings. Accordingly, the Gram Panchayat buildings shall be painted in suitable colour combinations and colour theme of the following colours, duly following the Guidelines for painting of Government Buildings, as prescribed in the G.O. 8th read above:-
i) Terra Cotta colour : Representing Earth and Soil.
ii) Green Colour : Representing Crops & Plantations (Green revolution)
iii) Blue colour : Representing Water resources & Aqua Revolution in AP (Blue revolution)
iv) White Colour : Representing increased Milk Production & Cattle rearing (White revolution)
v) In case there is any local distinctive feature, that may also be added to the above colour theme appropriately, duly following the guidelines stipulated in the G.O. 8th read above.”
12. Learned counsel for the petitioner Mr. Panini Somayaji, while referring to the said G.Os., inter alia, contends that the impugned G.O. is contrary to the orders passed by this Court in W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 dated 10.03.2020. Learned counsel submits that despite the specific directions of this Court in the P.I.Ls., referred to above, the State Government issued the impugned G.O., with regard to the colour combination/theme for painting the Gram Panchayat Buildings and out of the four colours recommended by the Government, three colours i.e., Green, Blue and White are colours which are akin to Y.S.R.C. party flag colours, the Government without taking steps for removal of the existing colours which were directed to be removed, has issued the present G.O., with a view to bye-pass the orders of this Court. Learned counsel further asserts that there are no bona fides on the part of the respondents and prays for issuance of directions for quashing the G.O., in question.
13. On the other hand, the respondents represented through the Learned Advocate General and Learned Additional Advocate General filed separate counter-affidavits and contested the matter. The sum and substance of the counter-affidavit of respondent No.1 represented by the learned Additional Advocate General is that the Government in its endeavour to comply with the directions at para 56 (v) of the Order dated 10.03.2020 in W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 have constituted a committee to look into various colour themes for painting Panchayat/ Government buildings etc., The committee after deliberations, since NBC (National Building Code) does not provide for colour/colour theme/colour combination to be used in respect of Government building, felt that painting of said buildings shall be based on geographical and weather conditions which may be different from one to other as per their local conditions which may be different, that colours which reflect the prominence and socio economic conditions of rural Andhra Pradesh such as Soil, Agriculture, Aqua and Dairy etc., should be the main components of the colour combinations of the Gram Panchayat Buildings and on the basis of recommendations of the committee, Government issued the above said G.Os providing for the guidelines. Further that the orders dated 10.03.2020 in W.P. (PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 have not banned any specific colour, the said orders have been implemented by means of G.O.MS.No.622 and specific guidelines were issued in the said G.O. not to paint Government buildings with similar colour theme of political party flags/ Offices. That in terms of impugned G.O.MS.No.623 dated 23.04.2020 along with four colours viz., Terra Cotta, Green, Blue and White, fifth distinctive feature is also suggested and that the said fifth feature is not finalized at Government level and it would be selected on considerations like local, geographical, historical, cultural and economical importance of the area in which the building is located.
14. Pursuant to the orders dated 05.05.2020, the 2nd respondent represented by the learned Advocate General filed a counter-affidavit inter alia referring to prompt action taken for strict implementation of the orders in W.P. (PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020, the reasons for non-removal of paints as per the earlier orders and the subsequent extension orders thereon. While taking similar pleas as that of the 1st respondent, it is further stated that G.O.MS.No.623 dated 23.04.2020 gives freedom to use any other colour. While stating that as per the said G.O., local distinctive features may also be added to the colour theme, thereby leaving scope for local innovation in developing the colour theme for the Gram Panchayat Buildings, but it must be in accordance with the Hon’ble High Court guidelines vide G.O.MS.No.622 dated 23.04.2020. Asserting that there is no any deviation or non-compliance of the directions issued by this Court, it is submitted that no contempt has been committed by the respondents and prayed for dismissal of the writ petition.
15. The learned Additional Advocate General reiterated the contentions raised in the counter-affidavit and further strenuously submitted that virtually there are only seven colours available and as many as five out of them resemble one or other colour of political party’s flag colours viz., Red- CPI/CPM, Saffron and Green-BJP, Yellow-TDP, White and Red-Janasena, Pink-TRS and in such circumstances, the colour combination in terms of G.O.MS.No.623 dated 23.04.2020 cannot be found fault, as the respondents are left with no other colours. The learned Additional Advocate General further pleads that the writ petition (PIL) is lacking in bona fides and liable to be dismissed.
16. The learned Advocate General appearing for respondent No.2 while supporting the stand of the Government with reference to reflection of agrarian nature of the State and the thematic colour combination referring to Agriculture, Aqua, Dairy activities made all efforts to impress upon this Court that the action of the respondents in the light of recommendations made by the committee constituted for the purpose of looking into various colour themes for Panchayat buildings is in furtherance of the implementation of the earlier orders of this Court and not in derogation of the same. He further submits that in any view of the matter, the 2nd respondent has not committed contempt of the orders of this Court and as such no proceedings under the Contempt of Courts Act be initiated and seeks dismissal of the Writ Petition.
17. After hearing the learned counsel for both sides and considering the respective contentions, the issue which falls for examination by this Court in the present P.I.L. is:
Whether the impugned G.O. in the present Public Interest Litigation Petition is sustainable in the light of the specific directions in W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 ?
18. The arguments advanced by the respective counsel are required to be tested against the background of controversy revolving around painting of Panchayat/Government buildings by using the colours akin to YSRC party flag colours, Judgment and directions of this Court in W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020.
19. As set out earlier, this Court in W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020, recorded categorical conclusions to the effect that “any acts of political parties painting the colours on the Government buildings/Panchayat buildings to propagate the ideology of individual political party, which may affect the free and fair election, shall not be permitted.” Specific directions were issued restraining the painting of Government Buildings/Panchayat Buildings similar to the colours of the flags of the parties or the party offices by use of public money. This Court has further directed the Chief Secretary to formulate the guidelines to specify suitable colour combination for painting the Panchayat/Government buildings and other properties belonging to the Government as well as local bodies and authorities; which should not be similar to the colours of the flags and offices of political parties. Non-compliance of the directions shall entail the liability of the respondent Nos.1 to 3. The directions (ii), (iv) and (v) at para 56 of the orders in W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 are clear and unambiguous.
20. However, in the present case, as seen from G.O.MS.No.623 dated 23.04.2020, Government issued orders for painting the Panchayat buildings with four (4) colours, adding Terra Cotta colour. Out of these four (4) colours, Green, Blue and White colours undoubtedly reflect the colours of the party flag of Y.S.R.C party, which were same in the previous P.I.Ls. Though the respondents through their counter-affidavits tried to justify that the said three colours are reflection of the agricultural and allied subjects, the fact remains that no serious endeavour has been made by the respondents to ensure that the colour combination for painting Gram Panchayat buildings should not be similar to the colours of the flags and office of political parties. Though it is submitted that G.O.MS.No.622 dated 23.04.2020 contemplates that colour combination for painting the buildings and other properties should not be similar to the colours of flags and offices of political parties, curiously the said G.O is referred in G.O.MS.No.623 dated 23.04.2020 issuing orders duly prescribing the colours for painting in suitable colour combinations and colour themes, but not followed. As mentioned earlier, three out of the four colours decided by the Government resemble party flag colours of YSRC party. In this regard, the submission of Learned Additional Advocate General that there are only seven colours available and most of which resemble party flag colours of one party or other, cannot be appreciated as there is no dearth of colours or combination of colours which the respondents could not find, other than those restrained by this Court. Even the committee, as seen from the record, does not appear to have taken the earlier directions of this Court in W.P. (PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 in right spirit and sense of seriousness or responsibility. Much emphasis is laid on agrarian nature of the State etc., thereby prime issue of Court’s directions in W.P. (PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 pale into insignificance.
21. It is not the endeavour of this Court to embark upon the theme or colour combination, which the Government in its wisdom proposes to adopt for painting the Panchayat/Government buildings, as reflects from direction No.(v) of the order of this Court. But, it also would not mean that the State Government shall directly or indirectly tend to circumvent the directions issued by this Court, while adjudicating the issue of painting of the colours on the Government buildings similar to the colours of flags of the political parties. The directions of this Court referred to supra are clear, unambiguous and as simple as they are. The respondents, instead of implementing the directions of this Court in true letter and spirit, issued orders which the Court has reason to believe, in the light of its earlier Judgment and specific directions, are lacking in bona fides repeating the colours of the flag of the YSRC party. The respondents under the guise of reflecting the agrarian nature and allied subjects of the State, cannot play foul with the orders of this Court ignoring the direction Nos.(ii), (iv) and (v) issued in specific at para No.56 on the basis of the conclusion as drawn in para No.55 referred to supra. Such an action on the part of the respondents is nothing but deliberate attempt to overreach the orders of the Court, which cannot be countenanced. Therefore, the decision of the State Government to paint Panchayat/Government buildings with the colours or colour combination/theme, which resemble YSRC party flag colours or for that matter any political party, in the teeth of the specific directions of this Court is not sustainable. Accordingly, the contentions raised on behalf of respondents are rejected.
22. Reverting back to G.O.MS.No.622 dated 23.04.2020, it is clear that the State Government wants to observe the order of this Court that the colour combination for painting the buildings and other properties should not be similar to the colours of the flags and office of political parties. Whereas the colour combinations and colour theme for painting Panchayat buildings as per the Government orders in G.O.MS.No.623 dated 23.04.2020, apart from Terra Cotta colour include Green, Blue and White colours which are the same colours of the flag of YSRC party, while the usage of the said colours is restrained by the specific directions of this Court vide para Nos.55 and 56 of the orders passed in W.P.(PIL) Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 referred to supra. Meaning thereby, the respondents, even on understanding the nature of the directions issued by this Court which were confirmed by the Hon’ble Apex Court, keeping the same three colours of the flag of the YSRC party and by adding one colour in addition, want to achieve their object indirectly under the guise of the impugned G.O., ignoring the guidelines of their own G.O.Ms.No.622 supra.
23. It is relevant to note that when the matter came up for hearing on 20.05.2020, this Court, during hearing, in view of the above discussion, apprised to learned Advocate General as well learned Additional Advocate General that the directions as issued in the previous writ petitions have not been complied with; and requested whether to fortify their stand of bona fide, of not changing the previous colours similar to the YSRC party; or the respondents ready to change the colours of the flag of the YSRC party mentioned in the impugned G.O., obeying the directions of this Court. On their request, some time was granted to inform about the response of the Department to the Registrar General. But, no such information has been given by the
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Advocate General. The Additional Advocate General, at first blush, informed that neither the Chief Secretary nor the Principal Secretary, including the concerned officials, picked up the calls; and after some time, the Additional Advocate General informed to the Registrar General that a departmental official has informed to request for time. In the said sequel, the opportunity sought by them has not been availed, despite the endeavour of the Court to grant time to the respondents to comply the directions issued in previous round of litigation, confirmed by Hon’ble the Supreme Court. 24. In view of the discussion made hereinabove, we allow this petition, set aside G.O.Ms.No.623 dated 23.04.2020, holding that adding of three colours of the YSRC party flag, viz., Green, Blue and White, in lieu of agrarian nature of the State to paint the Gram Panchayat buildings, is in gross violation of the directions issued vide order dated 10.03.2020 in W.P.(PIL).Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020, confirmed in S.L.P.(C) Nos.6384-6385 of 2020 vide order dated 23.03.2020. In the facts of the case, the petitioner is also entitled for the costs quantified at Rs.10,000/- (Rupees Ten Thousand only). All the pending miscellaneous applications shall stand closed. 25. Before parting with this order, we are of the opinion that respondents 1 to 3 have not complied with the orders of this Court. Therefore, rule nisi was issued to them on the first date of hearing, i.e., on 05.05.2020, why separate contempt proceedings be not initiated. In furtherance to the aforesaid, a separate contempt proceedings be registered by the Registry and be listed for further orders on 28.05.2020. While listing the said contempt proceedings, the Registry shall attach the copy of the order dated 10.03.2020 passed in W.P.(PIL).Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020, copy of the order dated 23.03.2020 passed in S.L.P. (C).No.6384-6385 of 2020 and copies of the orders dated 05.05.2020 and 20.05.2020 passed in this writ petition. 26. It is further directed that on the above said date, respondents 1 to 3, the Principal Secretary, Panchayat Raj Department, the Chief Secretary to the Government and the Commissioner, Panchayat Raj & Rural Development, shall personally remain present before the Court in case of non-compliance with the order of this Court. They are at liberty to comply the order of this Court dated 10.03.2020 passed in W.P.(PIL).Nos.177 of 2019 and 18 of 2020 or otherwise file reply why they should not be held guilty for the non-compliance of the orders of this Court. 27. A copy of this order be communicated to the Learned Advocate General and Learned Additional Advocate General by the Registrar General and be sent on the e-mail to the Principal Secretary, Panchayat Raj Department, the Chief Secretary to the Government and the Commissioner, Panchayat Raj & Rural Development.