The faceoff between the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Prasar Bharati over the latter’s autonomy on hiring and firing has now spilled into financial matters.
Doordarshan (DD), under Prasar Bharati, has rejected repeated demands of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) — which falls under I&B Ministry — 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.
Doordarshan claims there was “no rationale nor any precedent” to outsource the job since it had been doing this all these years and had the “in-house” capability to telecast the ceremonies live.
Responding to a Right to Information application filed by The Indian Express, NFDC said, on February 9, that the contract for the opening and closing ceremonies as well as for the red carpet was awarded to SOL Productions Pvt Ltd. It did not, however, disclose the financial details of the contract.
The Indian Express has learnt that NFDC asked DD to shell out Rs 2.92 crore: this includes Rs 2.25 crore for live coverage of the ceremonies, Rs 22.5 lakh as NFDC fee and GST worth Rs 44.55 lakh.
Official records show that NFDC kept asking Doordarshan for the money beginning a week before the festival opened on November 20.
In a letter dated November 12, NFDC asked Prasar Bharati to pay the amount but Doordarshan, sources said, declined.
On January 18, NFDC’s Festival Director Sunit Tandon wrote to Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, asking if DD could pay for the opening and closing cermeonies.
On February 12, Tandon again wrote to Vempati reiterating the demand arguing that the costs have gone towards supplying programming exclusively for Doordarshan.
The next day, February 13, Ali R Rizvi, Additional Secretary and Finance Advisor in the I&B Ministry, who is also the Ministry’s nominated member in the Prasar Bharati Board, reinforced Tandon’s reuqest. He wrote to Prasar Bharati CEO to discuss, at the February 15 Board meeting, the issue of Doordarshan paying the bill. He also referred to a February 12 meeting in the I&B Secretary N K Sinha’s office where it was decided that the issue be taken up at the Prasar Bharati board meeting.
The same day, sources said, a top official put on record DD’s objection. “The official explained how and why there was no need to hire a private company and then ask DD to pay the bill,” said a source.
“DD has the capacity, equipment and staff to do the work,” he said. “We cover big events like Republic Day and International Yoga Day with more than 40 cameras. The event required only 15 cameras. So there was no need to hire an outside agency to do the work. That’s why the Board was told that it was not justifiable for Prasar Bharati to pay for such an activity and this could also invite audit objections.”
At the Prasar Bharati board meeting on February 15, the Board declined to pay the Rs 2.92-crore bill.
Despite calls and a detailed text message on this bill, I&B Secretary N K Sinha did not respond.
A Prasar Bharati spokesman declined to comment.
Incidentally, the IFFI was managed by the Ministry’s Directorate of Film Festivals but it was, after Smriti Irani took charge in July, that it was handed over to NFDC.
In response to this report, Prasar Bharati issued a statement on Twitter Thursday, claiming that the report “sought to manufacture a controversy by selective culling of facts”. The statement mentioned that at the 145th board meeting of Prasar Bharati on October 25, 2017, “the Board approved the proposal for DD to commission special content for IFFI through NFDC to be produced by an external agency”. It said the “Board was also informed that the opening and closing ceremonies would be provided to Doordarshan by NFDC to be telecast live”. According to the statement, Prasar Bharati on January 19, 2018 “confirmed the payment due from Doordarshan to NFDC towards IFFI”. It said “NFDC’s subsequent request to Prasar Bharati regarding its expenses towards the live production of the opening and closing ceremonies was received by Prasar Bharati” on February 12 and the Board “deliberated” the matter on February 15.
The Indian Express replies:
The Prasar Bharati statement does not contradict any fact stated in the report. There were two aspects of Doordarshan’s payment to NFDC for IFFI-related content. While Doordarshan had agreed to pay for 42 special episodes created around IFFI, it had refused to pay for the live coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies of the film festival. NFDC was asking Doordarshan to pay Rs. 2.92 crore. On the basis of objections from Doordarshan, the Board again rejected NFDC’s request. The Indian Express stands by its report.