Community radio set to take off, finally

NEW DELHI: The much-touted community radio broadcast service, which was announced with great fanfare by former information and broadcasting (I&B) minister Sushma Swaraj last year, is all set to become a reality. Finally!



Annamlai University in Tamil Nadu is poised to become the first organisation to implement the community radio broadcast programme, likely to be inaugurated in February 2004.

What's more, the central government is also pulling out all the stops to facilitate clearances - more in number compared to launching a satellite TV channel - that would be needed to start such a service.

Annamalai University would be followed by the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT-K) that has also set its eyes on flagging off a community radio broadcast service for its campus.

According to government sources, in all probability, IIT-K's community radio pogramme would be inaugurated by telecom and infotech minister Arun Shourie.

Shourie has a soft spot for IIT-K. In the past too, he had donated the money earmarked for him (as a Member of Parliament to develop his constituency) to a technology project of the institute.

The sources also said that the government (read the I&B ministry) is seeing to it that the community radio scheme doesn't get embroiled in controversy and a maze of bureaucratic clearances.

Recently, an expert committee set up to suggest an investor-friendly policy guidelines for the radio broadcast sector, had brought to the notice of the ministry that the community radio service had failed to take off even after one year of its announcement because of the huge number of clearances needed.

Earlier, the justification for delay in such clearances had been that, in a diverse country like India, the government could not allow clandestine radio services to be started by anti-India groups in the name of community radio broadcast.

But proponents of this community radio service have argued that the government should make the procedure less cumbersome and can also easily monitor such services with the help of the local government and security agencies.

The Planning Commission too has suggested that such community broadcasts can be funded by the government also.

As admitted by the I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently in the Parliament, over 20 organisations - including universities academic institutes and non-governmental organisations - have sought permission to start a community radio broadcast service.

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