In an embarrassment to the NDA government, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has had to backtrack on the reasons for sacking Nina Lath Gupta as head of National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) by withdrawing all its accusations of impropriety.
The I&B Ministry was forced to issue a fresh termination order on April 24 removing Paragraph 2 in the first sacking order of February 27 which had cited irregularities and “failure to adhere to prescribed procedures” by Gupta as reasons for firing her from the post of NFDC Managing Director.
Paragraph 2 had charged Gupta with “procedural lapses” in releasing advertisements to select private channels beyond the 5 per cent limit prescribed in the Electronic Media Policy; not refunding the 15 per cent commission to ministries that got advertisements issued through NFDC; and charging one ministry Rs 4.29 crore in excess of actual expenditure.
The Ministry also held her responsible for “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”.
The new April 24 order, however, drops all these references and merely cites Clause 1.1 of the terms and conditions of January 2007 appointment letter whereby “the President of India has decided to terminate the services of Nina Lath Gupta, MD NFDC, with immediate effect giving three months’ salary in lieu of three months’ notice period”.
Charges against Gupta were dropped following a rebuttal by her lawyer in the Delhi High Court a day earlier that Paragraph 2 contained “serious allegations which are unfounded and these allegations render the impugned order stigmatic and liable to be quashed as the impugned termination is not preceded by any disciplinary action under the Conduct, Discipline and Appeal Rules”.
The government counsel — “on instructions” — submitted that “in order to put to an end to the controversy, Paragraph 2 of the impugned order be treated as withdrawn, although it does not stigmatize petitioner”.
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The court, while disposing the I&B Ministry’s plea for vacating the stay order against Gupta’s dismissal, directed that the ministry replace the February 27 by “a simplicitor order dispensing with the service of petitioner” within three days so that she could avail of the remedies against the new order.
Gupta had re-joined NFDC mid-March after the court on March 8 put a stay on the Ministry’s order on her petition that the allegations were unfounded and the termination was “not preceded by any disciplinary action.”
To buttress its allegations, the I&B Ministry subsequently wrote to the Central Bureau of Investigation for a criminal enquiry into Gupta’s commercial operations as NFDC head and had planned to use the CBI preliminary enquiry to initiate disciplinary proceedings against her.
Gupta, who took over as NFDC MD in April 2006, was given a five-year tenure from January 2007, in the first instance, or until the age of superannuation. She had approximately seven years to retirement.
On April 3, a day after the I&B Ministry had sent out a circular stating that the accreditation of a journalist, found to have “created and/or propagated” fake news, will be suspended or permanently cancelled, the Prime Minister’s Office had ordered its withdrawal.