Explained: Delhi LG Orders Recovery Of Rs 97 cr From AAP For 'Political Ads', What's The 'Ad Scam'?

Delhi Lieutenant Governor has asked the Delhi chief secretary to implement the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee on Content Regulation in Government Advertising (CCRGA).

Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Vinai Kumar Saxena

Once again, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government is in a fix as Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena has ordered the recovery Rs 97 crore from the party for political advertisements it allegedly published in the guise of government advertisements.

It is alleged that AAP spent Rs 97.14 crore (Rs 97,14,69,137) or booked advertisements covered by this money for "non-conforming advertisements", according to sources.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has lashed out at AAP and termed this "advertisement scam". The BJP also demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigatin (CBI) should look into this.

Here we explain what's the case and how the BJP is using it to attack the AAP.

Delhi LG VK Saxena orders Rs 97 crore recovery

The Delhi government's Directorate of Information and Publicity (DIP), acting on a 2016 directive from a Committee on Content Regulation in Government Advertising set up by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, had notified that Rs 97.14 crore (Rs 97,14,69,137) had been spent or booked on account of "non-conforming advertisements", said sources to PTI.

"Of this, while payments amounting to over Rs 42.26 crore had already been released by the DIP, Rs 54.87 crore for advertisements published were still pending disbursal," a source said.

Acting on the directive, the DIP had in 2017 directed the AAP to pay over Rs 42.26 crore to the state exchequer immediately and directly pay the pending amount of Rs 54.87 crore to the advertising agencies or publications concerned within 30 days, they said.

"However, even after the lapse of five years and eight months, the AAP has not complied with the DIP order. This is serious as public money, despite a specific order, has not been deposited by the party to the state exchequer. Such defiance of a legitimate order by a registered political party is not only contemptuous of the judiciary, but also does not augur well for the health of good governance," the source added.

BJP alleges 'avertisement scam', calls for CBI probe

The BJP has been alleging the Delhi government of spending crores on advertisements.

Addressing a press conference held here, Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly Ramvir Singh Bidhuri alleged an "advertisement scam" in the city government and demanded a CBI inquiry into it.

"We see an advertisement scam here, and demand a CBI inquiry into it. We will approach the LG in this regard," said Bidhuri.

Bidhuri also claimed that the amount to be recovered from the ruling party in Delhi would rise to Rs 400 crore.

RTI data on AAP ad spending

Earlier this year, the Right to Information (RTI) replies from the Directorate of Information and Publicity (DIP) revealed that the the Delhi Government’s spending on advertisements increased by 4,273% over 10 financial years ending with 2021-2022

Since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took office in 2015, the amount spent on advertising has increased four times when compared to the corresponding prior fiscal years, and decreased twice. The expenditures went from 81.23 crore in 2015–2016 to 67.25 crore in 2016–2017 and from 117.76 crore in 2017–2018 to 45.54 crore in 2018–2019. The response states that during the two COVID-19 pandemic years, advertising costs were 199.99 crore in 2019–2020 and 293.20 crore in 2020–21.

In 2015, the Supreme Court had postulated guidelines to regulate government advertising and eliminate unproductive expenditure. Following this, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting formed the three-member Committee on Content Regulation in Government Advertising (CCRGA) in 2016.

The CCRGA investigated advertisements published by the DIP and issued an order in September 2016, identifying those which were in "stark violation of the guidelines" set by the apex court.

The Directorate of Vigilance (DoV) also conducted an inquiry,  the L-G House said, the and found that not only did the DIP not recover amounts worth Rs 42,26,81,265, it also proactively paid the pending amount of Rs 54,87,87,872, rather than getting the AAP to pay the same, as ordered, news reports quoted officials saying.

“In eight cases, payment of Rs 20.53 crore (approx) was made, falsely attributing it to Court / Arbitration orders. Further, Dy CM Manish Sisodia, who is the Minister-in-Charge of the Department as well as the Minister of Finance, approved payment of another Rs 27 crore (approx), by entering into fraudulent “compromise deed / settlement”, despite the fact that there was no litigation nor there were any directions from Supreme Court / High Court of Delhi,” they said.

In the light of this matter, several news outlets quoted the L-G saying that  “It has also been brought out that such advertisements that are prima facie and blatantly violative of the Supreme Court order have been continuously issued by the DIP on the direction of the ministers. One such example of wasteful expenditure in violation of the Supreme Court order is the case of advertisements in the bio-decomposer project. While the entire cost for the bio-decomposer project was Rs 41.62 lakh, the expenditure incurred for advertising it was Rs 16.94 crore, which is 40 times higher than the project cost.”

Officials with the L-G’s House are alleging that all this was done by the AAP and its ministers by “resorting to grossly illegal moves” which entailed putting in place a Committee of its own to look into violations of the Supreme Court guidelines.

Outlook reached out to AAP officials, and they were unavailable for the comment.  This story will be updated once the AAP officials get back with responses.

(With inputs from PTI)