Smriti Irani Answers Prasar Bharati's Defiance By Withholding Salary Funds Of DD & AIR Employees
In an unprecedented step, Smriti Irani, Information & Broadcasting Minister, has blocked the salaries of employees of the public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati (PB) over an alleged stand-off where the latter refused to pay nearly Rs 3 crore as fees to a private company at the cost of national television channel Doordarshan.
(Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR) is run by Prasar Bharati.)
Because of Irani’s decision, Prasar Bharati, for the first time, had to pay the salary of their 5,000 employees from the contingency fund for the months of January and February. Surya Prakash, chairman of the Prasar Bharati board, said that if the stand-off continues they will run out of money by April, reports The Wire.
The government has a budget of Rs 2,800 crore earmarked toward Prasar Bharati for 2018-2019. The fund is released to PB on a month-to-month basis by the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry.
Prasar Bharati sources say that every month the ministry creates a ruckus while releasing funds, and in December they finally stopped paying. That is when they had to fall back on the contingency fund.
The crisis, they say, began after Surya Prakash, who heads the autonomous institution, started questioning some of Smriti Iran’s actions, as reported by The Wire. PB denied paying Rs 2.92 crore to a private company for a job which was unnecessarily outsourced. They had the in-house capability to do the job.
The I&B Ministry appointed a private player, SOL Production Private Ltd, to cover the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa and wanted Doordarshan to make payments for the same. The Indian Express was the first to bring this to light. To the publication’s report, PB made a statement that on January 9, 2018, its Board “confirmed the payment due from Doordarshan to NFDC towards IFFI.”
There were two aspects of Doordarshan’s payment to NFDC for IFFI-related content, The Indian Express pointed out as a response to PB”s statement. While Doordarshan had agreed to pay for 42 special episodes created around IFFI, it refused to pay for the live coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies of the event.
Apart from this, Prasar Bharati further angered Irani by denying the appoint of two journalists recommended by the I&B minister herself in top editorial posts. The reason being – exorbitant fees that Irani asked PB to bear.
The journalists Siddharth Zarabi and Abhijit Majumder were shortlisted by the I&B ministry for the Head of TV News in Doordarshan and chief editor at the Prasar Bharati News Service respectively. The ministry had fixed an annual compensation of Rs 1 crore (Rs 8.3 lakh per month) for Zarabi and Rs 75 lakh (Rs 6.25 lakh per month) for Majumder.
I&B’s ministry’s response
The ministry responded by saying that PB has not signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with I&B. But it did not refute any of the information published by the media, including withholding salaries.
Journalist Swati Chaturvedi who had reported on the issue in The Wire made this Tweet in response to the ministry’s statement:
Dear @smritiirani thank you for confirming my story that you've not paid the salary of GOI employees out of personal animus. Why is this MoU relevant? Why does your own @prasarbharati not want to sign it? https://t.co/vcSeI5hT3w
— Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) March 2, 2018
— Swati Chaturvedi (@bainjal) March 2, 2018
Earlier tales of Smriti Irani’s high-headedness
Transfers, say ministry sources, is Irani’s favourite weapon. “The moment she is displeased with an official, a transfer order is on its way.” Another official who plans to put in his papers after repeatedly being humiliated says, “She is like the queen in Alice in Wonderland – it’s ‘off your head’. I have never in my entire service of more than 25 years dealt with a more whimsical and arrogant minister.”
Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi director R.K. Shevgaonkar resigned from his post in December 2014 because the HRD Ministry, then headed by Smriti Irani, asked to “release pay of nearly Rs 70 lakh to IIT-D faculty and BJP functionary Subramanian Swamy as salary dues between 1972 and 1991,” as reported Livemint.
Although, Irani denied all allegations.
In another case of interference by Smriti Irani, nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar resigned from his post as chairman of the IIT Mumbai board in March 2015. Here, the intervention was alleged because the selection of three IIT Directors came from outside the shortlisted candidates.
In November 2014, Irani invited criticism over the appointment of Vishram Jamdar as the chairman of the Vishweshwaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) in Nagpur. It is alleged that because of his RSS connection, his appointment was fast-tracked.
In 2016, Smriti Irani roundly lambasted 42 Vice Chancellors gathered at a closed-door meeting in Surajkund, Haryana and asked them not to spend a vacation with taxpayer’s money. The Vice Chancellors were running some of the most prestigious universities in India, namely Hyderabad University, Jadavpur University.