When the Commerce Ministry released full-page advertisements in newspapers — justifying the government’s FDI in retail policy — to counter a ‘Bharat Bandh’ called by several parties on September 20, 2012, it bypassed a procedure. In its haste to release the advertisements, the ministry did not route them through the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP), as required under strict government guidelines.
Fifteen months later, bills totalling over Rs 3.21 crore towards the cost of releasing the advertisements in English, Hindi, vernacular dailies are being tossed around from one ministry to another, with both the Finance Ministry and Information and Broadcasting Ministry denying clearance to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) under the Commerce Ministry, which released them.
With the I&B Ministry recently writing to the Commerce Ministry, saying that it was “unable to advise anything contrary to its laid down policy”, the matter has now been referred to Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth.
While top government sources said they were “hopeful’’ that the bills — raised by private advertising agency Percept H. Pvt Ltd — will be cleared, DAVP officials said a violation of the guidelines was clear in this case. “All ministries and PSUs are expected to route their advertising through us and that there should be no deviation to this rule,” said DAVP DG D Mohanty.
The DIPP has been hard-pressed in justifying its stand for bypassing the DAVP. In a letter to the DAVP, dated October 12, 2012, it pointed out that the full-page advertisements “were considered necessary to dispel any misapprehensions in the minds of the public on the policy pronouncement and outline its benefits… this has the approval of the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Textiles (Anand Sharma)”.
In another reminder to the I&B Ministry, on January 2, 2013, the DIPP wrote, “The advertisements were issued through a DAVP empanelled agency which had designed the creative in November 2011 for a similar campaign. Since the releases were to take place at DAVP rates, there was no financial loss envisaged to government. CIM (Anand Sharma) has desired that post-facto concurrence of DAVP/ Ministry of I&B may be taken accordingly…” This letter mentions that the bills raised by Percept H Pvt Ltd were to the tune of Rs 2.61 crore.
In turn, the departments concerned have only informed the Commerce Ministry about instructions issued by the Cabinet Secretary wherein it was reiterated that all ministries “strictly’’ comply with the 2007 Print Media Advertisement Policy by going through only the DAVP for release of their campaigns.
In July 2011, former I&B minister Ambika Soni had written to all ministries reiterating the instructions. Her letter pointed out that “some ministries are not routing their display advertisements through DAVP. This practice is not only in contravention of the policy but also results in financial loss to the government…”
Last heard, the Commerce Ministry had again been informed that ex-post facto approval of releasing advertisements through private agencies could not be given by either the DAVP or the I&B Ministry. When contacted, Chief Operating Officer of Percept H Amitava Mitra said, “We have a very good relationship with the Ministry of Commerce and we are sure this issue will be resolved soon.”