Three years after post fell vacant, UR Rao is Prasar Bharati chairman

Prasar Bharati has a chairman again, after a gap of three years.

Prof UR Rao, former chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), took over as the head of the pubcaster late last week. The post had been lying vacant since the demise of eminent journalist Nikhil Chakravarty, who passed away in July 1998. Chakravarty had taken over the reins of the fledgling Prasar Bharati in 1997, when it was entrusted with the modalities of granting autonomy to the state-run All India Radio and Doordarshan.

Getting down to business almost immediately, Rao, who is an acknowledged expert in the field of satellite technology, announced yesterday that state run Doordarshan would provide uplinking facilities to private television channels, opening up new revenue streams for the national broadcaster. The proposal comes in the wake of anticipated policy changes from the government allowing private channels to have uplinking facilities from the country.

Rao, who was previously a part-time member on the Prasar Bharati Board, also said the corporation was trying to shut down DD channels that were not doing very well. Rao said at least two channels, which he did not name, would definitely be closed down. An internal analysis was going on and channels, whose "reach is not high" will have to go off the air, Rao has been quoted as saying.

Rao, who started his career as a cosmic ray scientist at MIT, has carried out extensive work in high energy astronomy and has published over 250 scientific and technical papers in various journals. Convinced of the imperative need to use space technology for rapid development, Rao took responsibility for the establishment of satellite technology in India and guided the design, fabrication and launch of the first Indian satellite 'Aryabhata' in 1975. Prof. Rao and his team followed this with the launch of two experimental remote sensing satellites, Bhaskara-1 and Bhaskara-11, the first experimental geostationary communication satellite APPLE, two Rohini satellites on India's launch vehicle SLV-3, the INSAT-1 series of four satellites (revolutionising the communication scenario in the country) and IRS-1A and 1B, two state-of-art remote sensing satellites. These have since been followed by the launch of INSAT-2A and 2B, IRS-1C and 1D.

Prof Rao became chairman, Space Commission and secretary, Department of Space in 1984, and during a decade when he also enjoyed tenure as chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), was responsible for accelerating the development of rocket technology within India for launching satellites into low Earth, polar and geostationary orbits. During this time he was also vice-president of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) where he stimulated initiatives in promoting the use of space technology in developing countries.

The development and deployment of the INSATs have initiated a total communication revolution in India, providing human connectivity even to the remotest corners of India, through business communication, emergency communication, nation-wide radio networking, information networking services and rural telegraphy.

His predecessor at Prasar Bharati, Nikhil Chakravarty, on the other hand, was a media personality in his own right, though not as technology-savvy.

As founding editor of Mainstream, the journal whose gloss was in its deliberative content rather than on its cover, he expressed the insights that come from quiet contemplation of serious themes.

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