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Pawan Sharma , Hindustan Times
Chandigarh, September 27, 2013
The Punjab government has decided that any advertisement not released through the state public relations (PR) department will attract disciplinary proceedings for financial irregularity against the officer concerned.
Behind this contentious move is the objective of controlling the 'mouth-watering' and hefty profile-raising budget of the state government by the information and public relations department.

Also at the root of this decision, quietly engineered by the department headed by Bikram Singh Majithia and approved on September 24 by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, are the "whispers" that some well-connected people in the government allegedly receive kickbacks or commission for issuing the advertisements, albeit through some agencies, government sources said.

The PR department's annual advertisement budget has been barely Rs. 17 crore so far. But, it is set to cross Rs. 60 crore per annum after the decision coming into force from October 1 that all departments, boards, corporations and public sector undertakings will route their advertisements through the PR department.

"The deputy chief minister has asked chief secretary Rakesh Singh to take action against the erring department and officer not following the directions in letter and spirit. Sukhbir Badal is fully aware about certain individuals in the government making money from government advertisements," a top government functionary said.

The deputy CM had on Tuesday convened a meeting of senior bureaucrats and heads of departments to whom he "aggressively and forcefully" conveyed to route their department's advertisements through the PR department. More than 24 officers were present at this meeting, which lasted less than 10 minutes.

Government sources say administrative secretaries will be responsible for implementing this decision and the non-compliance of the policy will attract disciplinary proceedings for "financial irregularity." In case the advertisement is issued by bypassing the PR department, the finance department will not clear the bills. Instead, the money spent on publishing the advertisement will be deducted from the officer's salary.

As at the core of this move is the apparent objective of stamping out "corruption of 15% commission" in the guise of releasing advertisements, moves are afoot to plug loopholes in the PR department also.

The empanelled advertising agencies, sources say, will only design the advertisements and even the practice of the PR department releasing the advertisements through advertising agencies will be curbed.

"We are formulating a policy under which the advertisements will be released directly by the director, information and public relations, instead of the advertising agencies," said an officer privy to the developments.