DD's DTH plans to lease out operations to private parties

NEW DELHI: Doordarshan’s plans to modernise its direct-to-home platform, DD Direct Plus, by leasing it out for operation and maintenance to a private party has led to trouble within the pubcaster, with several unions raising strong objections.

The Recognised Association’s Forum Of Akashwani & Doordarshan has written a letter to Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni describing the move as an "arbitrary and undemocratic decision" of the Nominated Member and Prasar Bharati CEO Rajiv Takru who is Additional Secretary in the Ministry.

‘If he had felt full of energy and enthusiasm, he should have channelised his energy to improve the quality of programmes and transmission. Unfortunately, Takru seems to be working with an ulterior motive. His recent actions suggest that he wants the department to close down as soon as possible, so that he can hand over the tasks to private parties. When he first floated the idea of handing over Doordarshan’s DTH platform to private parties a couple of months ago, he was dissuaded by some officials and employees associations to avoid such steps. It was highlighted that if the DTH services are handed over to private players, then it would result in huge losses to the department,’ the Forum has said.

It has also been pointed out that the Planning Commission has already sanctioned an amount of additional Rs 1.44 billion to Doordarshan, which is sufficient for this purpose.

But DD sources told that the plan was to float tenders to find parties who would not install new and state-of-the-art equipment but also run the operations and maintenance of DD Direct Plus for a period of five years. This would involve a cost of around Rs one to 1.5 billion.

However, these sources said the proposal had still not received final clearance from the government.

When floated, the request for proposal (RFP) will invite eligible private DTH and teleport operators to take over the operational command and control of DD Direct Plus for the next five years for a fixed monthly fee.

The action is being taken to facilitate the raising of the capacity of the platform from 59 to 200 and beyond in 6-8 months.

Doordarshan spends Rs 3.5 billion to Rs four billion every year to operate 59 channels on DD Direct+ (including 22 DD channels) whereas private operators manage over 230 channels on their respective DTH platforms at nearly half the cost (on a per channel basis), sources said.

Under the proposed arrangement, private operators will manage the entire technical back-end of DD Direct Plus including uplink and downlink of channels, quality control, expansion and subscriber management, among others.

In order to attract only serious private players, Doordarshan will keep the net worth requirement for bidders at Rs two billion, which means only DTH firms like Dish TV, Tata Sky, Digital TV, Sun Direct and others can qualify. Among teleport operators, Essel Shyam and HFCL, among others, are said to have a net worth above Rs two million.

Private firms will be able to bid as a company or a consortium as long as they have experience of operating a minimum of 30 channels on MPEG-2 technology.

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