By Shreya Raman
Mumbai: Midday meals for 45.7 million children for a year. One day’s wages for 200 million workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. About 6 million new latrines. And at least 10 more Mars missions.
These were some of the things that could have been financed with the money that the current National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government spent on publicity in the four years it has governed India.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government spent Rs 4,880 crore ($753.99 million) on advertising its flagship schemes in the 52 months between April 2014 and July 2018, according to the information made available to the Rajya Sabha by Rajyavardhan Rathore, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting (independent charge).
This amount is double the sum spent by the government’s predecessor in 37 months: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government spent Rs 2,048 crore ($377.32 million) between March 2011 and March 2014, according to this 2014 response to a Right To Information query filed by activist Anil Galgali.
Of the Rs 4,880 crore the NDA spent on publicity, Rs 292.17 crore (7.81 percent) went to advertising four public schemes in three years — Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Scheme) for crop insurance, Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) for a nationwide cleanliness campaign, Smart City Mission and Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (Ideal Village Scheme for Members of Parliament) for urban and rural development.
When these figures came to light in July 2018, the government was criticised for not investing the money in public utilities.
IndiaSpend calculations showed that the money spent by the NDA on publicity could have been used in critical government projects ranging from child nutrition to public health and sanitation.
There’s been a 34 percent rise in government ad spend in four years
Government expenditure on advertisements rose 34 percent from Rs 980 crore in 2014-2015 to Rs 1,314 crore ($203.89 million) in 2017-2018.
In 2016-17, the government cut down on print advertisements and channeled money into audio-visual publicity instead. But in 2017-2018, it did the reverse — it spent more on print ads than audio-visual campaigns.
The 2017-2018 trend seemed to have continued into this financial year, too. The government’s bookings in the four months to July 2018 show that it has spent double the money on print advertising over audio-visual publicity.