Mumbai: The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has signed on an advertising firm to highlight its projects and schemes on various social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The contract with the firm is worth about Rs 6 crore and will run for 12 months.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led government’s move comes at a time when the state’s finances are overburdened due to the Covid-19 crisis and loss of revenue due to the lockdown.
Maharashtra’s Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR) issued a work order to The Storytellers, a Mumbai-based advertising agency, earlier this month, and the company started its work for the state government from 15 September, a senior DGIPR official told ThePrint.
However, an official from the state finance department had told ThePrint earlier this month that revenue from Goods and Services Tax, which comprises nearly 50 per cent of the state’s tax revenue, has dropped by 35 per cent between April and July. Other revenue heads such as Value Added Tax and stamp duty have also plummeted. The government has cut development expenditure across departments by 67 per cent.
The government’s move to hire an advertising firm has drawn flak from the opposition BJP, with leaders implying money is being wasted at a time of great need.
Atul Bhatkhalkar, BJP MLA from Mumbai, said: “It is unfortunate that the state government is still spending on these sort of activities. Every penny available should be spent on containing Covid and upgrading health infrastructure. This government has lost its mind.”
Devang Dave, a Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha leader and convenor of its IT cell, slammed the government on Twitter.
— Devang Dave (@DevangVDave) September 18, 2020
Notably, Dave himself was battling allegations of possible irregularities in July. The Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer had hired his firm ahead of the 2019 assembly polls to run a social media voter awareness campaign.
Issue being unnecessarily politicised
The DGIPR official quoted above said the hiring of advertising firm is being unnecessarily politicised.
“The contract is not for public relations or advertising of the government and chief minister on social media. It is simply for the purpose of putting information about government schemes, programmes and projects in public domain through social media platforms,” he said.
“The whole issue is being unnecessarily politicised and miscommunicated. Using social media to tell people about government schemes is more important in today’s crisis because not many are reading newspapers. Most are turning to digital media for updates.”
The official said state government officials are not skilled at using social media platforms to reach out to people effectively, which is why various departments routinely tap outside agencies for this work.
“We have awarded such contracts even during the BJP’s rule. We have an empanelled list of agencies from whom we seek presentations every time we need to hire one. An internal committee looks at the presentations and chooses the most appropriate fit,” the official added.
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