Setting the stage for a fresh face-off between the Delhi government and the Centre, a central committee has alleged that the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) violated some of the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court last year on regulating the content of government advertising.
The committee alleged that the Delhi government used the exchequer’s funds to promote Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party, and asked AAP to reimburse the state for the ads. The 17-page conclusions of the committee have been sent to the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, the Chief Secretary of the Delhi government, registrar of Delhi High Court and Congress leader Ajay Maken, the complainant.
The alleged violations related to outstation ads, misleading ads, ads for self-glorification, ads against media, ads mentioning AAP by name, and ads about incidents in other states.
When contacted, AAP Minister Kapil Mishra told The Indian Express: “I am not aware of what the report says but based on the charges made against us, all I can say is there should be the same rules for all state governments. Why is the Delhi government being singled out? Such politically motivated committees cannot pass judgments.”
The three-member committee — including journalist Rajat Sharma, advertising veteran Piyush Pandey and headed by former chief election commissioner B B Tandon — had been created by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on April 26 this year, following guidelines issued by the Supreme Court on May 13, 2015.
The committee said that it had received a complaint against the AAP government from Maken on May 11 this year, accusing it of violating the court’s guidelines in nine areas. In his complaint, Maken referred to outstation ads by the Delhi government; ads in newspapers masked as news reports; misleading ads; ads on government’s anniversary; ads favouring certain media houses; and ads issued
outside the government’s jurisdiction. The committee alleged that the Delhi government had “violated the guidelines issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in six of the nine areas listed by the complainant’’. The committee said it sent notices to the Delhi government for its comments on May 26, followed by reminders on June 13 and June 26. The Delhi government told the committee that it was “in the process of appointing” its ‘’own committee for regulating the content of the Government advertisements”, it said.
After the Delhi High Court directed on August 10 that Maken’s complaint be decided by the I&B ministry’s committee, the panel said, it sent a notice to the Delhi government on August 17 followed by another on August 24.
The Delhi government submitted its comments on August 30, a day after the deadline set by the committee, it claimed. In its response, the Delhi government said that it had “taken an conscious decision to communicate the path-breaking accomplishments made in health, education, water supply, roads, etc., to not only the citizenry of Delhi but also the people across the country”. It said that allegations were unjustified since the ads “amount to a fraction of the government expenditure in the overall scheme of things”.
Denying that the ads were used for self-glorification, it said that Kejriwal as the Chief Minister is the “natural face or identity of the government”.
“This is no exception as the government communication strategy of every Indian state is represented by its Chief Minister and that of the nation by the Hon’ble Prime Minister,’’ it said.
On the accusation of ads beyond its geographical jurisdiction, one of the cited examples was one on the lynching of a man in Dadri over allegations of consumption of beef. The Delhi government said that the ads were approved by the Deputy Chief Minister of the state.
The committee had said that the Supreme Court judgment had “stated that the heads of government departments and agencies shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with these guidelines and shall follow a procedure of certification of compliance before advertisements are released to the media’’.
The committee concluded that since the Delhi government had allegedly violated the guidelines, “the only way it could be remedied is to make the political party, the main beneficiary in the process of violation, to pay for the expenditure incurred by the government”.