Despite the pandemic and the decline in revenue that it brought, the Karnataka government has cut no corners in its advertisement spends. Even while staring at a revenue deficit, the state government spent around Rs 12.78 crore on celebrating various government and party-related milestones as per RTI documents. A series of RTI queries by journalist Mahantesh revealed that the state government has been funding the PR machinery while claiming the state is short of funds for many welfare schemes.
On July 26, 2020, a grand function marked the completion of BS Yediyurappa’s term of power in Karnataka. This, after the BJP toppled the JD(S)-Congress coalition government by allegedly poaching 17 of their MLAs. The completion of two years of his government was marked with an event that was held in the banquet hall of Vidhana Soudha, where Yediyurappa announced his resignation in an emotional speech. But the booklet publication, a film hailing Yediyurappa as CM and the advertisements for the event cost the state exchequer a whopping Rs 7.88 crore according to one of the RTI responses.
The compensation promised for BMTC employees who lost their lives during the pandemic is still due. But the state government had spent Rs 78.4 lakh on ads spreading COVID-19 awareness near BMTC bus terminals and bus stands, revealed another RTI response. Ironically, a large part of the spending was during a period when the buses were functioning at limited capacity. Over 50 television screens were used at bus stands in Majestic, Yeshwanthpur, Shanthi Nagar, Shivajinagar, Kengeri, and a few other bus terminals to play a 60-second video.
News channels were commissioned to play a video ranging between 15 to 30 minutes praising the Karnataka government’s welfare schemes. Kannada channels including TV 9 Kannada, Public TV, Suvarna News, Power TV were given a total of Rs 57.02 lakh to play the programme as an advertorial, showed an RTI response. For a conclave conducted in Chennai by a private news channel, the state government had given Rs 50 lakh to play videos showcasing the Karnataka government’s work.
The Karnataka government wishing PM Modi on his birthday cost the state exchequer a total of Rs 44.85 lakh, according to one of the RTI responses. Advertisements that were taken out in various Kannada newspapers–Kannada Prabha, Prajavani and Udaya Vani– by the state government wishing PM Modi came from the Information and Broadcast department budget.
When Union Home Minister Amit Shah came to Karnataka to inaugurate projects worth Rs 50 crore, the state spent Rs 89.46 lakh in just commissioning advertisements, another RTI response revealed. Amit Shah had inaugurated developmental projects in Bengaluru and Davangere during the visit.
The ex-gratia amount for below poverty line (BPL) families that have lost their earning member is still pending due to ‘procedural delays’ but the government spent Rs 1.6 crore on congratulating themselves on the great work done during the pandemic, the various schemes and relief measures announced. This amount went towards full-page advertisements in four consecutive pages in Kannada newspapers between July 25 and 27, 2020 alone according to an RTI response.
The figures mentioned above, regarding how much the Karnataka government has spent on advertising, are just what is obtained in a series of six RTI applications and is not the complete figure on how much has actually been spent during the pandemic.