Interview | National

No other Act is treated with as much contempt, says Prasar Bharati Chairman A. Surya Prakash

Prasar Bharti Chairman A. Surya Prakash.  

The rift between the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) and public broadcaster Prasar Bharati is growing by the day. In this exclusive interview with The Hindu, former journalist and Prasar Bharati Chairman A. Surya Prakash talks about the present crisis. Excerpts:

Of late, there is growing tension between the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Prasar Bharati. How do you respond to the crisis that’s making headlines almost daily.

This in itself should not be a cause for worry because in a vibrant democracy, a certain degree of tension between a department of the government and an autonomous institution is par for the course. In fact, it should be a matter of concern if everything is hunky dory! In the course of the engagement, there are agreements and disagreements. One need not be unduly worried about it so long as the relationship is marked by civility and mutual respect and all stakeholders are aware that they are bound by the mandate of Parliament as outlined in the Prasar Bharati Act.

It is said that in a recent meeting of the Prasar Bharati Board, you accused the I&B Ministry and its bureaucracy of not adhering to the Act. Is that true?

Yes. In my view, the bureaucrats in the Ministry have passed several orders which indicate that they have utter contempt for the Prasar Bharati Act. In fact, they behave as if the Act does not exist at all. For example, a few months ago, the Ministry issued an order stating that the Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) of the CEO of Prasar Bharati would be written by the Secretary, I&B. This is absolutely and patently illegal. As per Section 6 (7) of the Act, the CEO is an employee of the corporation and not of the Ministry. The Act clearly mandates that the CEO is not to function under the control and supervision of the Ministry or its bureaucrats.

Another directive that flies against the letter and spirit of the Act is the one issued on February 5, 2018 directing Prasar Bharati to terminate all contractual employees. Members of the Board have taken strong exception to this, too. What kind of an autonomous media corporation is Prasar Bharati if it cannot hire contractual and casual manpower who are paid out of its own funds? In fact, I regard such orders as gross contempt of the Act and of Parliament itself. I have never found another Act of Parliament being treated with such contempt by bureaucrats as the Prasar Bharati Act!

There was a lot of speculation and uncertainty regarding your reappointment for a second term. What happened and has your reappointment got anything to do with the present crisis?

I am not privy to what transpired behind the scenes regarding my reappointment. As per the Prasar Bharati Act, a committee headed by the Hon’ble Vice President has the mandate to select the Chairman.

No other Act is treated with as much contempt, says Prasar Bharati Chairman A. Surya Prakash

How would you describe your relationship with this government?

I am seen as a friend of this government for two reasons: (1) ideological affinity and (2) shared political experiences with seniors in this government and the party [the BJP]. I have always felt that pseudo-secularism is at the root of many of our problems and I see this government as having the vision to move away from it.

What are the shared political experiences?

Most of the top leaders of this party and government fought against the dreaded Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975-77. Leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K.Advani, Nanaji Deshmukh, Arun Jaitley, Prakash Javadekar, Anant Kumar, Ravishankar Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan were thrown in jail. Many RSS leaders from Balasaheb Deoras to Dattatreya Hosabale were also jailed. Leaders like Narendra Modi evaded arrest and played a key role in the underground movement, helping families of jailed leaders to cope with in their difficult situation. I was with The Indian Express in those days. We were all soldiers in what was called the ‘second freedom struggle’.

Where does Prasar Bharati come into the picture in this?

The dictatorial Emergency regime indulged in gross misuse of AIR (All India Radio) and DD (Doordarshan). Many media stalwarts like B.G.Verghese, Nikhil Chakraborty and M.V.Kamath therefore wanted an autonomous corporation. Eventually, Prasar Bharati was born in November 1997. It is the will of Parliament that Prasar Bharati be a “genuinely autonomous corporation”.

Do you think this government stands committed to the letter and spirit of the Prasar Bharati Act?

Of course, I have no doubt about it. I gave the historical background so that we understand the approach of key decision-makers to this issue. If you look at the circumstances in which I was re-appointed, I do not think the Hon’ble Vice-President, the Prime Minister and others would have wanted me back if they did not respect the autonomous nature of this corporation.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 8:39:12 PM |

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