Kejriwal govt spent ₹293 crore on ads during pandemic; 25-fold hike from Congress govt in 2013

AAP-led Delhi govt spent around Rs 805 cr on advertisements since 2015. This translates into a compounded annual increase of 50% every year, 26 times more than what Congress spent on ads in 2012-13

Kejriwal govt spent ₹293 crore on ads during pandemic; 25-fold hike from Congress govt in 2013

Ashlin Mathew

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi has spent Rs 293 crore on advertisement in TV channels, newspapers and radio during the pandemic year 2020-21. This is Rs 93.2 crore more than what it spent in 2019-20.

There has been a 2,500% increase from the ad spend in 2012-13 (FY 13), when the Congress-led Delhi government under Sheila Dixit spent only Rs 11.18 crore on advertisements. The Kejriwal government has spent approximately Rs 805 crore on advertisements ever since he came to power in 2015. This increase translates into a compounded annual increase of 50% every year, which is 26 times more than what the Congress spent on advertisements in 2012-13.

However, these numbers are much lower than what the Delhi government has mentioned in their budget documents. According to the budget documents, under the detailed demand for grants, the Delhi government has stated that the revised estimate for information and publicity in 2020-21 was Rs 355.33 crore. The final figure will be known only next year.

This information has come to light in responses to queries sought under the Right to Information Act by rights activist Kanhaiya Kumar.

Kejriwal govt spent ₹293 crore on ads during pandemic; 25-fold hike from Congress govt in 2013

In 2015, which was the first year that the Aad Aadmi Party came to power with full majority, the Delhi government spent Rs 81.23 crore on advertising; in 2016-17, it spent Rs 67 crore, after which the advertising spend increased exponentially. In 2017-18, the AAP-led Delhi government spent Rs 117.76 crore on advertising; in 2018-19, it dropped to Rs 45.58 crore but it grew by over four times in 2019-20, to approximately Rs 200 crore.

In the budget document, the Delhi government states that 2015-16, they spent, Rs 85.92 crore. This underscores that they have distorted the figures in their RTI response. In 2016-17, the actual spend was Rs 71.65 cr, in 2017-18, it was 122.23 cr, in 2018-19, it was Rs 50.88 and in 2019-20, it was Rs 204.17.

In 2021, a full-page advertisement in an English national daily cost between Rs 60-70 lakh, but the DAVP rates are almost always one-third of the market rate, said those in the advertising industry. So, the current rate for government ads in national dailies is Rs 9 lakh for a full-page colour ad in the Delhi edition alone.

In 2013, the last year when Sheila Dixit was power, it used to cost between Rs 30-35 lakh for a full page ad. The government doesn’t pay a premium for front page or back page ads.

The Directorate of Information and Publicity claimed in the RTI response that it did not maintain records of advertising spend through various mediums including television, newspapers, hoardings, radio and campaigns.

The ad spend according to the RTI response
The ad spend according to the RTI response

Spend on Information and Publicity based on budget documents
Spend on Information and Publicity based on budget documents

National Herald reached out through emails and messages to both the Delhi Chief Secretary and the Secretary of the Directorate of Information and Publicity, but got no responses on the ad spend by the government. This article will be updated if and when they respond.

In response to another RTI in December 2020, the government had stated that it had spent Rs 103.76 crore on publicity in March 2020. This was more than half of the advertising spends for the year. It came after the Kejriwal government had swept the Assembly elections in February 2020, which was also when the deadly carnage in Muslim-majority north-east Delhi left 54 persons dead.

In 2020 itself, the Delhi government spent close to Rs 46 crore in July and Rs 27.68 crore in August, with the rest of the amount having been spent throughout the year.

In early 2021, during the second Covid-19 wave in the national Capital, former Union minister and Congress general secretary Ajay Maken had accused the Delhi government of spending crores on publicity but not spending money to set up new oxygen plants and to augment storage capacity in the capital. The Delhi government hasn’t spent enough resources in tackling the disease; instead they spent Rs 32 crore in advertising about its Diwali puja, said Maken in an earlier interview.

"The Delhi government, as a proportion of their budget, spends the highest amount among other states in the country on publicity. The budget estimate of the Delhi government is higher than the budget estimate of even the Uttar Pradesh government," asserted Maken. The former union minister commented that the Delhi government's ad budget is thrice the combined spend of Congress-led Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh government.

He explained that the total budget of the Delhi government is Rs 60,000 cr and they spend close to Rs 500 cr on advertising. The total budget of the Rajasthan government is Rs 2 lakh crore and only Rs 150 crore is spend on advertising.

The Opposition leader underscored that the government should have transferred Rs 10,000 into the accounts of those who needed it the most during the pandemic. He had pointed out that the Centre had informed the Delhi High Court that it had sanctioned eight pressure swing adsorption medical oxygen plants but only one plant had been set up in the Capital.

Ad spend vs pandemic policy

While the Delhi government was advertising itself through the pandemic, the realities on ground were starkly different. In March 2020, just after the lockdown was announced, the Kejriwal had stated that his government would compensate landlords whose tenants were not able to pay the rent as a result of the situation. He also promised strict action against landlords found harassing their tenants.

However, 18 months after the announcement, the Delhi government informed the Delhi High Court in September that its promise of paying a poor tenant’s rent during the Covid-19 pandemic was still under consideration.

On July 22, the court had ruled that a CM’s promise to citizens was enforceable and directed the AAP government to the extent. The bench had asked the government: “Are you ready to pay even 1 per cent?” The hearing in the case was initiated after five daily wagers and a landlord moved the High Court for enforcement of the "promise" made by Kejriwal.

In March 2020, the Delhi government promised Rs 5,000 relief to all construction workers affected due to the lockdown and two months later in May 2020, after a meeting with the Construction Workers’ Welfare Board, labour minister Gopal Rai said the government would launch an online portal where the construction workers could register to avail the scheme.

The issues here were two-fold — many unorganised sector workers were not registered and several of them could not register because the registration process online itself was fraught with complexities that many of them could not navigate. They had to shell, during the lockdown, several hundreds of rupees to simply register.

The Delhi government then had insisted that the construction workers had to register online to be eligible for their benefits. By May 2020, the Delhi government has paid Rs 5,000 to just 40,000 workers, which was not even a fraction of the workers in the Capital, said Animesh, the IFTU-Delhi president.

The High Court bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli had slammed the Delhi government early this year for failing to utilise thousands of rupees lying in the corpus under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Cess Act.

Despite Kejriwal promising in March 2020 that the number of night shelters would also be increased in the city to help the migrant workers, the Delhi Urban Shelter improvement Board (DUSIB) had only increased a few in December 2020 for winter. This too happened after a Supreme Court order as a result of which a state level monitoring committee was constituted to look into the matter in August 2020.

Condemning the Arvind Kejriwal-government, Maken said the Delhi government is only an ad-based government and nothing is done on the ground. "The government is lying in the RTI. The actuals show otherwise," said Maken.

Delhi government’s budget for publicity

The Delhi government’s publicity budget for the year 2021 is Rs 467 crore. In the first year that the Kejriwal government came to power, it had allocated Rs 522 crore for advertisement and publicity in 2015-16 budget, which was later revised to Rs 134 crore. It was then increased to Rs 175 crore in 2016-17 and for 2017-18, the government allocated Rs 190 crore.

However, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had stated that in its first year, the Aam Aadmi Party government spent Rs 29 crore in releasing advertisements outside Delhi which was "beyond" its responsibility.

Additionally, advertisements worth Rs 24 crore released by the government were in violation of financial propriety and Supreme Court regulations, stated the CAG report tabled in the Delhi Assembly in 2017.

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Published: 05 Oct 2021, 6:22 PM