After being voted to power in 2021, the Himanta Biswa Sarma government in Assam removed the monetary cap for government advertisements in print and electronic media.
According to a brochure detailing the Sarma cabinet’s decisions, released last week to mark the state’s 100th cabinet meeting, the information and public relations department was exempted from the finance department’s ceiling weeks after Sarma took charge as the CM in May 2021.
Earlier this year, the state government the assembly that it spent a whopping Rs 130.59 crore on advertisements over the last two years – higher than the Rs 125.60 crore spent by the previous BJP government under Sarbananda Sonowal over his entire five-year tenure.
Meanwhile, of the 1,238 cabinet decisions that find a mention in the brochure, there is an approval to a proposal to give “wide publicity of government achievement in the form of special features and advertisement in India Today on nomination basis”.
While the brochure or the government portal did not have further details, an official at the DIPR said the India Today group has been given Rs 10 lakh over 10 months. Newslaundry reached out to the India Today group for comment. This report will be updated if a response is received.
“Basically, the exemption removed the role the finance department earlier had in releasing funds for advertisements,” the DIPR official said. “Earlier, the finance department had to approve the amount we demand for expenditure on advertisement from the budget allocated to us. Now we don’t need any such approval from the finance department and can decide and disburse the amount for advertisement allocated to us in the budget.”
Debabrata Saikia, Leader of Opposition in the Assam assembly, said there has been little clarity on decisions taken in the cabinet meetings.
“I have written to the chief secretary asking for minutes of the cabinet meetings but they have not provided me anything despite multiple communications,” the Congress leader said, adding that the Assam government should publish a white paper on cabinet decisions.
Letters seen by Newslaundry show Saikia had asked for proceedings and minutes of cabinet meetings in December 2022. Responding in March this year, Assam’s principal secretary refused to share the details citing the confidential nature of matters discussed in these meetings. “In a cabinet, there are many sensitive matters which are discussed and recorded there itself. Hence the records of decisions are not circulated or in public domain,” the principal secretary’s letter read.
“After this response, I even wrote back citing the decision of the Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra wherein it was clarified that information regarding a cabinet decision cannot be withheld after the decision is taken. But I have not heard anything till now,” Saikia alleged.
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