The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has floated and then rescinded a draft Bill that sought to give the powers to appoint the Directors General of Doordarshan and All India Radio directly to the Union government.
The draft Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Amendment Bill, 2019 would in effect have the capacity to erode the national broadcaster’s autonomy, experts said. Prasar Bharati was established as an autonomous body after the Prasar Bharati Act was passed in 1990.
On April 1, the I&B Ministry circulated the draft Bill to remove the provision to establish a recruitment board, and give powers to appoint the Directors General of Doordarshan and All India Radio directly to the Union government. The notification seeking public feedback on the draft Bill was removed from the ministry’s website in less than a week, and on April 8 the ministry issued another notice stating that “the matter has been kept in abeyance till further orders”.
The April 1 notice stated that the I&B Ministry “is in the process of amendment of Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990” for which a “draft note” dated November 15, 2018 for the Union Cabinet was circulated for inter-ministerial consultation. It said that after receiving the inputs and comments from all concerned ministries and departments, the draft “The Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Amendment Bill, 2019” was prepared.
The explanatory note of the draft Bill mentioned that as per Section 9 of the Prasar Bharati Act, officers and employees of the public broadcaster were to be appointed in “consultation” with the Recruitment Board, which was to be established as per Section 10 of the Act. “However, the Prasar Bharati Recruitment Board (PBRB) could not be established due to one or another reason” and the ministry has now decided “not to establish PBRB” and remove the relevant section of the Act which empowered Prasar Bharati to set up recruitment boards.
Therefore, the explanatory note stated, “it has been proposed to delete section 10 of the Act and amend section 9 (which provides for the appointment of DGs of AIR &, DD and other officers/employees through PBRB) so as to enable Central Government for appointment of DGs and to enable UPSC/SSC for appointment of other officers & other employees”.
Since there is “no explicit provision which enables Central Government to make Rules regarding method of recruitment, conditions of service etc for government employee on deemed deputation to Prasar Bharati”, the note said, the draft Bill seeks to bring an “enabling provision” “to explicitly empower / enable the Central Government to make such rules for such employees”.
Experts said the move will “bottom out the autonomy” of the national broadcaster. Former CEO of Prasar Bharati Jawhar Sircar told The Indian Express that it is a “complete sabotage” of Prasar Bharati’s independence and claimed that the government had deliberately not allowed the PBRB to be set up all these years.
When contacted, Prasar Bharati Chairman A Surya Prakash said, “ I am happy to note that the amendments have been kept in abeyance.” The Indian Express contacted Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati and I&B Secretary Amit Khare, asking if the national broadcaster’s comments had been sought on the draft Bill and if they considered it would impact Prasar Bharati’s autonomy, but neither responded.