Jio, Paytm Get Embroiled in an Image Problem
Cos get notice for using PM’s photo in ads, may have to pay penalties too
Deepali Gupta & Nishtha Saluja
Mumbai | New Delhi: The government has issued notices to Paytm and Reliance Jio Infocomm asking them whether they had taken prior permission before using Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photographs on advertisements of their products.
An official with the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution confirmed the move, adding that the companies may also face penalties in the coming week. Two other ministry officials also confirmed the development.
The consumer affairs department in the ministry has also written to the ministry of information and broadcasting, advising it to sensitise the media about the need to obtain “prior permission” before commercial usage of certain emblems and names prohibited by the The Emblems and Names (Preven-
tion of Improper Use) Act, 1950.
Reliance Jio’s use of the prime minister’s photograph in fullpage advertisements issued by the telco in September last year triggered a political debate and also led to a public interest litigation. On November 9, hours after Modi announced the demonetisation exercise the previous night, Paytm welcomed the decision and urged public to start using its digital wallet service by issuing an advertisement which had the prime minister’s photograph on it.
Neither Reliance Jio nor Paytm responded to email queries from ET on the issue. Emails and calls to Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma went unanswered.
“Certainly, private entities cannot use official emblems and insignia without permission. It is strange that this government is waking up after so long since this has been going on for months,” said Supreme Court lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
The 1950 Act states that “…No person shall, except in such cases and under such conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government use… for the purpose of any trade, business, calling or profession… any name or emblem specified in the Schedule or, any colourable imitation thereof without the previous permission of the Central Government or of such officer of Government as may be authorised in this behalf by the Central Government.” In January, the government had expressed displeasure at such unauthorised use of the PM’s photograph when the Khadi and Village Industries Commission used his picture in its calendar. “The talk of issuing notice started there because it seemed like a rising wave,” said the official quoted earlier. “The PM would have the same rights as any individual not to be seen as endorsing a brand without consent,” said a senior high court lawyer.
Reliance Jio has taken on domestic and foreign competitors with a massive .₹ 1.5-lakh crore investment. It rolled out services last year with a high-profile controversial free service offer which has now been extended to March. The company projected it was furthering the PM’s ‘Digital India’ agenda by offering free voice service and high-speed broadband services.
“It is possible to argue there should be regulation against misuse of the PM’s image, but so far there have been no repercussions. On balance, the companies may feel they have got value for the measure,” said Santosh Desai, chief executive at Future Brands.