The NDA government has quietly started examining the “relevance” of public broadcaster Prasar Bharati and also whether it is necessary to continue with the statutory body which, many in the government feel, has become a “white elephant” of sorts over the years.
In a recent interaction with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is learnt to have conveyed that the government has spent close to Rs 19,000 crore on Prasar Bharati ever since it came into existence in 1997 but the public broadcaster has clearly not been able to leverage the vast resources at its disposal to make Doordarshan and All India Radio the preferred choice of the masses.
The I&B Ministry has also conveyed to the PMO that a thorough review was in order before granting any more substantial funds to the broadcaster, sources told The Indian Express.
Although amenable to the suggestion of reviewing Prasar Bharati’s relevance and necessity, the Narendra Modi government, sources indicated, is not keen to press the panic button by using words like “scrapping” or “abolishing” just yet. Instead, it is willing to give the broadcaster some time to get its act together and show tangible improvements in a time-bound fashion.
“The Prime Minister has been informed about the enormous funding that has gone to Prasar Bharati in the past 16 years of its existence. He has also been given an insight on how the public broadcaster has struggled to fulfil its mandate. Before pumping any more funds into Prasar Bharati, there is a need to know where we are headed with this body, the PM has been told,” a government source said.
A highly placed source said, “There is no doubt that Prasar Bharati needs to be revamped. It has become a top-heavy organisation. No new blood has come, no new creativity has come in all these years. To be alive and relevant, a river has to flow. In case of Prasar Bharati, the river’s flow has stopped. The body has turned into a white elephant over the years and it is time its relevance is reviewed threadbare.”
Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told The Indian Express, “We have told Prasar Bharati that with the kind of reach you have, you must become competitive in the market.” Days after taking charge, Javadekar threw a challenge at Prasar Bharati, asking it to take steps to improve its content in a manner that makes Doordarshan the number one choice of the people.
In its maiden budget, the NDA government allocated Rs 2,421.58 crore to Prasar Bharati as grants-in-aid, which is essentially towards meeting salary and salary-related expenditure. This year’s allocation is Rs 241.21 crore more than what was budgeted last year and Rs 332.02 crore more than the revised estimates last fiscal.
As on date, the Prasar Bharati Board is functioning without a Chairperson, Members (Personnel), Member (Finance), and four of its six part-time Members.
The I&B Ministry and the Prasar Bharati have been at loggerheads for years, with the latter seeking “real” autonomy and often ruing the interference the government can have in mechanisms of appointment, transfers, career assessments and punitive actions against Prasar Bharati officials. The ministry has maintained that it keeps an “arm’s length distance” from the public broadcaster as mandated by the law.
Under the UPA, there was even talk of the government bringing in an ordinance to scrap the Prasar Bharati Board because of internal bickering.