Prasar Bharati locks horns with I&B ministry over delay in releasing funds

MUMBAI: Surya Prakash-led Prasar Bharati is locked in a tussle with the Smriti Irani-helmed ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) over the non-release of payment for paying salaries of Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) employees.

DD and AIR are the TV and radio arms of the Prasar Bharati.

The Prasar Bharati head honcho has reportedly taken up the matter at the top level in the government and has also sought the intervention of the parliament which is the source of the pubcaster’s status and autonomy.

According to a report in The Wire, Irani is miffed with Prasar Bharati for turning down the suggestion of hiring Siddharth Zarabi and Abhijit Majumder as head TV News for DD News and as chief editor for Prasar Bharati News Service respectively. Apparently, Prasar Bharati felt that the two journalists have a very high price tag.

The report noted that that the I&B ministry is also unhappy with the pubcaster for rejecting repeated demands of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) to pay Rs 2.92 crore as expenses to a Mumbai-based private firm that arranged for live coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2017 International Film Festival of India.

The two back to back rejection by the Prasar Bharati didn’t go down too well with Irani. According to the ‘The Wire’ Report, the ministry has withheld funds to Prasar Bharati since December 2017 forcing the public broadcaster to pay the salaries of its employees for January and February out of its contingency fund.

However, the I&B ministry has denied the report without clearly stating whether or not it has withheld the funds.

In a statement, the ministry stated that fiscal prudence and accountability is the very fulcrum of the functioning of any Government organisation.

It also added that the Prasar Bharti is as much bound by the General Financial Rules (GFR) of the Government of India as any Ministry or any organisation receiving grants-in-aid from the Government.

It further stated that the provisions of GFR mandate that autonomous organisations receiving Grant-in-Aid must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry, clearly bringing out the physical and financial targets with timelines for activities to be done by utilising the said grant during that financial year.

Prasar Bharati, the statement said, has not signed the MoU despite repeated reminders. The ministry further added that it remained “committed to protect the interest of all Prasar Bharti employees”

Meanwhile, the tussle between Prasar Bharati and the I&B ministry has led to the sacking of NFDC MD Nina Lath Gupta who has been relieved of her duties with immediate effect, citing several irregularities and non-adherence to prescribed procedures.

According to the relieving order, the NFDC has not been adhering to prescribed procedures in certain cases, including the release of advertisement spots to select private channels in excess of the 5% limit prescribed in the electronic media policy, and a non-refund of 15% commission to the client ministry.

The order further states that “Rs 4.29 crore was additionally charged from the ministries above actual expenditure incurred”, “non-adherence to the standard operating procedures required of a co-producer under the NFDC’s ‘Film production in various regional languages’ scheme”, and “non-adherence to the due process for utilising funds for restoring films”.

You may be interested