Fresh trouble erupted for the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh after media reports emerged that it paid Rs 14 crore over four years for advertisements to undeserving websites, many of them run by the same people or their families.
The Opposition has accused the government of spending exorbitant amounts to polish chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s image.
The matter came to light after a list of websites that received advertisements was prepared by the government for 2012-15 in response to a question in the state assembly by Congress MLA Bala Bachchan.
An English daily found that several members of the same family, including relatives of journalists, retired bureaucrats and politicians, had received money from the state for different news websites that carried similar content.
Under a new policy announced a fortnight ago, a website is eligible for government ads only if it receives a minimum of 2,000 visits a day, said public relations principal secretary SK Mishra. The web portals were given two-three months to fulfil the norms to continue getting advertisements.
Public relations minister Rajendra Shukla revealed in the state assembly that of the 235 websites that were paid in that period, 26 received Rs 10 lakh or more, 81 between Rs 5 and 10 lakh, and the others less than Rs 5 lakh.
However, journalist Anurag Upadhyay, whose wife runs www.dakhal.net — one of the websites, claimed the amount was paid in seven-eight years but was presented in a way it appeared that a large sum was given in a short span of time.
The bigger issue is the crores paid to societies, NGOs and event management companies, he said, adding that an inquiry should be conducted to find out what services were provided to the government in return.
Deputy leader of the Opposition, Bala Bachchan, told HT that the overall payment to media was Rs 92 crore and the websites were just a part of it. Rs 66 crore was paid to NGOs and others.
He said he raised the question in the assembly to find out if the money earmarked for publicity of government schemes was spent honestly, but the government has not been able to furnish this information so far.
State BJP vice-president Vijesh Lunawat, however, justified the expenditure. He said digital media’s presence is growing and it is one of the most effective mediums for the government to reach out to the people.
State Congress chief spokesperson KK Mishra said the party was following the matter closely and would move court if the need arose.