Delhi Government Ad Spending in Last 10 Years Up by 44 Times, Reveals RTI

The spending has increased from nearly Rs 11.12 crore in 2012-13, when Sheila Dikshit was chief minister, to Rs 488.97 crore in 2021-22 under Arvind Kejriwal.

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New Delhi: At a time when news reports have highlighted how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi spent nearly 30 times more money on advertisements about the bio-decomposer scheme than the actual scheme itself, a right to information (RTI) application has revealed that the Arvind Kejriwal government’s spending on ads and publicity has been on a rise ever since it returned to power for the second time in 2015.

An RTI application on the amount of money spent by the Delhi government on advertisements over the last 10 years was filed by one Kanahiya Kumar, a resident of Vaishali in Bihar, on May 2, 2022. In the application filed with the Public Information Officer of Shabdarth, an advertising agency of the Delhi government under the Directorate of Information and Publicity, the applicant had sought information under nine points.

Also read: AAP Govt Spent Rs 7 Crore to Advertise Rs 40,000 Bio-Composting Programme: BJP

To each of these, Shabdarth had on May 19 replied that “the total money spent by State Government on advertisement for the period in question through electronic media, print media and outdoor publicity is as per the budget allotment”. It also said that the details of the budget allotted were available on the website of the finance department, adding that the “compilation of information is not covered under RTI Act”.

The department had gathered information from various sections. It also provided a detailed response on May 5 to the queries raised by Kumar.

Sharp rise in 10 years

To the first question on the total money spent by the state government on advertisements in the last 10 years, the Directorate’s reply revealed that the government’s spending on “Advertisement and Publicity” and “Other Charges” went up nearly 44 times between 2012-13 and 2021-22. While the total expenditure under the head was Rs 11.18 crore in 2012-13, it rose to Rs 488.97 crores by 2021-22.

The reply revealed that in 2012-13 the expense was only on “other charges” which related to advertisement charges booked under the head in addition to some miscellaneous expenditure. It was in December 2013 that the 15-year-term of the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government came to an end in Delhi.

In 2013-14, a sum of Rs 25.24 crore was spent by the government on “advertisement and publicity”. The following year, 2014-15, a sum of Rs 11.12 crore money was spent on “other charges”. This was the year when Delhi was under the rule of lieutenant governor as the Arvind Kejriwal government had demitted office in February 2014 after a 49-day rule. The Assembly elections only took place in 2015 and Kejriwal returned to power.

Thereafter, there was a sharp increase in government ad spending. In 2015-16, a sum of Rs 81.23 crore was spent; in 2016-17 there was a marginal drop and the spending came down to Rs 67.25 crore. Then it rose sharply to Rs 117.76 crore in 2017-18; stood at Rs 45.54 crore in 2018-19; rose four-fold to Rs 199.99 crore in 2019-20.

Pandemic year

During the year of the Covid-19 pandemic 2020-21, the spending on advertisements and publicity reached a new high of Rs 293.20 crore before peaking at Rs 488.97 crore in 2021-22.

In response to another query by Kumar on the month-wise spending by the Delhi government on advertisements in the last three years, the Directorate provided the data from April 2019 to March 2022.

As per this month-wise data, the least amount of money – nil – was spent on advertising and publicity in May 2020 when the first wave of Covid-19 had struck. However, the reply showed how there had been a marked month-wise increase in ad spend as it recorded a whopping rise from Rs 2.54 lakh in April 2019 to Rs 125.15 crore in March 2021.

Exorbitant spending on decomposer scheme

These findings assume significance as the Opposition parties in Delhi have often criticised the Arvind Kejriwal government of spending too much money on advertisements and very little on the actual schemes.

In May this year, news portal Newslaundry had reported how the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi had spent Rs 68 lakh across 2020-21 and 2021-22 on spraying the bio-decomposer developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute at Pusa, Delhi so that farmers did not resort to stubble or crop residue burning.

However, the report said, during the same time period, the Kejriwal government spent a whopping Rs 23 crore on advertising the project.

CAG flags concerns

The issue of high spending on advertisements by the AAP government was also flagged by the Comptroller and Auditor General in its recent report.  It raised concerns about the manner in which non-routing of classified advertisements by five state corporations through their administrative departments led to the excess expenditure of Rs 1.10 crore since they were not able to avail the DAVP (Directorate of Advertisement and Visual Publicity) rates, which were lower than the commercial charges.

The CAG had in its report also stated that it faced difficulties in accessing government files for conducting the audit. It said while records of all 225 creative advertisements released by four selected departments for the audit during 2016-18 were requisitioned by it, those of only 76 advertisements (34 per cent) were produced.

“As the DIP did not make available all files requisitioned during the audit, a comprehensive evaluation of the expenditure on advertisements and publicity by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) was not possible,” the CAG said.

The CAG also said that “five selected PSUs were publishing classified advertisements at commercial rates (through empanelled advertising agencies) instead of routing these through their respective administrative departments to Shabdarth (society set up in 2015 to function as an ad agency for the government) for publication at non-commercial rates/DAVP rates” and that “this resulted in excess expenditure of Rs 1.10 crore in 81 cases test-checked (out of 196 cases)”.