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AAP Govt. in Punjab splurges Rs 2 crore a day on ads, top IAS officer opts for transfer to skip trouble

Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann.

CHANDIGARH: With the AAP government in Punjab brazenly splurging the cash-strapped state’s funds on advertisements to all and sundry media houses across the country in complete violation of official precedents, senior officials dealing with this money are worried that they may have to face investigations later on the issue.

A senior IAS officer Gurkirat Kirpal Singh, the Principal Secretary of the Information and Public Relations Department, till recently, “requested to be posted out” to some other department as he was not willing to issue unprecedented release orders for publication and telecasting of AAP government advertisements.

Refusing to comment on the reasons for his transfer, Gurkirat Kirpal Singh said, “it is a prerogative of the government to transfer an officer wherever it wants to.”

But another IAS officer close to Gurkirat confirmed that the latter had requested the Chief Secretary to transfer him out from the Public Relations Department as the advertisement issue might one day become a subject matter of an inquiry.

Chief Secretary V. K. Janjua said it was a routine transfer. When pressed to clarify whether the PR Minister is required to issue written orders to the Secretary or the Director to release advertisements, Janjua said, “Secretary PR can give you details.”

However, Rahul Bhandari, Principal Secretary PR did not reply to the query as he was reported to be busy in a meeting.

In fact, the problem is that while directing the officers to issue release orders for advertisements on different subjects, the Public Relations Minister, who now happens to be Aman Arora, does not pass any written orders.

The entire responsibility then falls on the shoulders of the Secretary and the Director of the PR department and his juniors concerned. They become solely answerable for the unprecedented deeds of the government.

The AAP government spends an estimated average of Rs 2 crore per day on publicity. Bhagwant Mann took the oath of office on March 16th this year, and his government has been in power for around 200 days (6.5 months) up to September 30. Going by the estimated average expenditure on advertisements, the Mann government has spent over Rs 400 crores on publicity in 200 days of its governance.

The launching of the anti-corruption helpline phone number was publicised on TV channels at a total cost of Rs 14.50 crore, out of which Rs 1.60 crores was released to media houses in Gujarat and Rs 75 lakh in Uttar Pradesh. In addition, money was spent on ads in print and social media as well.

The decision to give compensation to farmers who adopted direct sowing of paddy was publicised at a cost of Rs 3.82 crores.

The simplification of official procedures for doing business with ease in the state were publicised at a cost of Rs 4.47 crores. In April advertisements worth Rs 18 crores were released. From March 11, 2022, to May 10 an amount of Rs 55 crores was disbursed for advertising. This expenditure does not include the money squandered on advertisements on Google, Facebook, hosting of flex-uni-polls, and video ads.

Interestingly, the Punjab government claimed that a sum of Rs 21 lakh from the public exchequer had been saved by bringing a paperless budget to the Assembly but spent Rs 42 lakhs on its publicity!

Some vernacular newspapers are regularly given full-page colour ads carrying pictures of ministers to publicise policies and achievements of the government in a form that looks like real news. At the bottom of such paid news page, it is mentioned, in very small sized letters, that it is an “advertorial.”

According to the documents procured from time to time under the RTI Act by Manik Goyal, more than 400 satellite and YouTube channels and newspapers of almost all Indian languages have been beneficiaries of the government’s largesse.

While the payment of salaries to the state government’s health staff and teachers has been delayed several times due to a lack of funds, this has not deterred the AAP leadership from wasting money on ads.

The data collected also shows the AAP government spent Rs 5.70 crore on the oath-taking ceremony of Bhagwant Mann organised in Khatkar Kalan after mowing down over 40 acres of standing crops. The farmers had to be paid compensation for destroyed crops besides expenditure on pandal, seating, and the sound system.

Goyal revealed that the Mann government was not forthcoming in providing information sought under the RTI Act. The replies to RTI applications were inordinately delayed. One was left with no option but to file appeals before the Information Commission to get directions issued for providing exact information. It was a time-consuming process involving substantial cost to the applicant.