New Delhi: From videos at Metro stations about “sweeping changes” brought by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the education and health sectors to individual newspaper ads and posters congratulating each of Delhi’s 11 districts for launching work on roads and drains, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s photograph was nearly ubiquitous in the national capital before the model code of conduct kicked in this month.
While the exact tab for this last-minute pre-election ad push is still being calculated, the Kejriwal-led AAP government has spent over Rs 274 crore on outdoor publicity since it assumed office in the national capital in February 2015.
Outdoor publicity includes hoardings around the city, including on the Metro network, and newspaper ads.
This expenditure, accessed by ThePrint through an RTI query with the Delhi Directorate of Information & Publicity, comes to an annual average of Rs 68.5 crore, roughly four times what the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government spent annually from 2008 to 2013: Rs 17.4 crore.
Nagendar Sharma, the media adviser to CM Kejriwal, refused to comment when asked why the Delhi government’s expenditure on ads quadrupled under AAP.
“Unless I can review all the papers, I can’t comment on this,” Sharma told ThePrint.
Dikshit, meanwhile, said Kejriwal’s ad expense had not escaped anyone’s notice.
“Everyone is noticing that he (Kejriwal) is spending more money than we ever did,” Delhi Congress unit chief Dikshit, who served three terms as Delhi chief minister, told ThePrint.
“He’s doing something he wants to do. He’s spending this money on himself and his persona,” she added. “All the chief minister is doing is advertising himself.”
To be sure, a part of the jump in advertising expenses could be blamed on an increase in advertising costs.
In 2008, when Dikshit returned to office for her third term, the price of a full-page ad in one of the leading national dailies was approximately Rs 33 lakh. In 2019, the figure stands at Rs 80 lakh. Front jacket prices are much higher.
However, the going rates for newspaper ads often don’t apply to political parties, said a media insider, since they drive a hard bargain and get a much lower price.
In 2015-16, the Delhi government had initially allocated Rs 522 crore to the Directorate of Information & Publicity, but the budget was brought down to Rs 100 crore, according to the RTI reply. Of this, the government spent Rs 59 crore.
The allocation for the directorate was increased to Rs 175 crore in 2016-17, of which Rs 66 crore was spent.
The expense nearly doubled in 2017-18, when the government spent Rs 117 crore from a Rs 190 crore allocation.
In 2018-19, as of 28 February, the government had spent Rs 30 crore on advertisements from an allocation of Rs 100 crore. It is likely that payments for all advertisements for this fiscal year may not have been cleared so far and are thus not included in the tally, a government source said.
Not the first time
The AAP’s apparent proclivity for heavy ad expenses has been flagged more than once over the past four years.
In March 2017, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India noted that the Kejriwal government had spent Rs 29 crore from public funds on ads outside Delhi in 2015.
The report also pulled up the AAP administration for being in violation of Supreme Court guidelines that call for government ads to be politically neutral and not glorify politicians.
Almost three weeks later, Delhi lieutenant governor Anil Baijal rapped the Kejriwal-led party for allegedly splurging government money on ads in violation of the Supreme Court guidelines, and asked the AAP to reimburse the sum of Rs 97 crore used.
The order came after a three-member committee on government ads — appointed by the Centre on the Supreme Court’s direction — recommended that the amount be recovered from AAP. The committee had taken note of the case on a complaint filed by Congress leader Ajay Maken.