New Delhi/Mumbai: On 31 October, newspaper readers woke up to an advertising blitzkrieg to mark the death anniversary of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi along with a few ads remembering Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister, on his birth anniversary.

On the whole, the government spends 400-500 crore every year on various advertisements to announce policy decisions and highlight achievements, besides wishing readers on important dates such as Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti, said an official in the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP), the nodal agency that undertakes advertising and publicity for the government.

The official, who didn’t want to be identified, said the government issued advertisements marking Gandhi’s death anniversary in 250-300 newspapers, including mainstream English and regional language papers, and on Patel’s birth anniversary in at least 4,000 medium and small newspapers.

Roughly 10 ads on Gandhi were issued by various ministries, including information and broadcasting, women and child development, social justice and empowerment, health and family welfare, and human resource development.

While some of these were issued through DAVP, at least three ministries—steel, power, and commerce and industry—issued their ads directly through their respective government-owned corporations.

Given that DAVP is a “bulk buyer" of media space and an agency representing the government, it commands its own rates that are 50-60% cheaper than what newspapers charge as commercial rates from private organizations and companies. This, say publishers, is a problem.

Though big publishers see 14-18% of their ad revenues coming from DAVP, the rates are too low when compared with the commercial ad rates of newspapers, said a senior executive of Jagran Prakashan Ltd, which publishes Hindi daily Dainik Jagran. DAVP contributes 15% to the ad revenue of Jagran Prakashan. The executive asked not to be identified as he isn’t an official spokesperson of the company.

Hormusji Cama, director of Gujarat Samachar and chairman of the Media Research Users Council, said the quantum of government ads is on the rise. “It’s a gross misuse of public money" given that the ads are not related to a social cause and don’t benefit the common man, he said.

K.V. Sridhar, national creative director of advertising agency Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, says he can’t believe the space allotted to the Gandhi ads. Instead of spending crores on such advertising, the government could have supported a cause or started a public service campaign, he added.