The controversy surrounding Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government’s spending on advertisements is refusing to die down. Last week, various sections in the media reported on what was termed as a “yet-to-be-tabled” report of the Comptroller & Auditor General concerning Delhi government’s ad spend.
As per the extracts of the report reproduced in the media, the CAG found the advertisements put out by the AAP government in complete dissonance with the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court.
“Test check of records of the GNCTD (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi) brought out expenditure of Rs 24.29 crore on advertisement and publicity campaigns that were not in conformity of fundamental principles governing expenditure from public funds and guidelines approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” the CAG said.
The government auditor went on to chastise the Delhi government for spending on advertisements outside of its territory. “Over 85 per cent of the expenditure of Rs 33.40 crore incurred in one specific publicity campaign pertained to advertisements released outside the NCT of Delhi, which was beyond the responsibility of the GNCTD,” the report added.
Speaking to sources in poll-bound Punjab where AAP is seeking power for the first time, exchange4media had earlier reported that Arvind Kejriwal’s party had spent as much as Rs 2.5 lakh on full page advertisements. Ironically, the CAG’s revelations have come just days after CM Kejriwal stated that AAP did not have enough money to fight elections in Goa.
Former BBC broadcaster and legal expert Dhiranjan Malvey pointed out that the advertising blitzkrieg unleashed by AAP was something which was quite visible to the citizens of Delhi. “Misuse of government machinery for personal promotion was very much obvious,” he said referring to ads issued by AAP to promote schemes like odd-even.
Elaborating on the role of the CAG, Malvey explained that it was a constitutional body responsible for probity in the accounts of the state and central government. “In this particular case since Delhi is a Union Territory, the CAG report besides being discussed in the Delhi Assembly should be tabled before the Union Parliament which will refer it to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC),” he added.
Having appeared before the PAC several times as a legal representative of Prasar Bharati, he mentioned that PAC goes through every bit of the report. “They call concerned officials on the basis of evidence and make recommendations. It can lead to legal repercussions and CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) enquiry,” he said.
But the Delhi government has so far remained defiant and pleaded innocence. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia rebutted the allegations on the floor of the Delhi Assembly and asked Amit Shah, Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and other political leaders to apologize for falsely claiming that the CAG had found corruption in Delhi government’s advertisements.
Daring the CAG, Sisodia said, “CAG may conduct a comparative analysis of spending on advertisement by Delhi government and that of other state governments which will clear the air on the issue.” However, the litmus test suggested by Sisodia may not be able to settle the debate once and for all owing to the ambiguous nature of government advertising as observed by the Supreme Court.
“This Court acknowledged the fact that the dividing line between permissible advertisements that are a part of government messaging and advertisements that are “politically motivated” may at times get blurred,” the SC stated in May 2015.