Outgoing Swaraj reminisces I&B tenure

NEW DELHI: Even as the new minister of state with independent charge, Ravi Shankar Prasad is slated to take charge at the I&B ministry tomorrow, the pink dailies got a pat on their back today from outgoing minister Sushma Swaraj when she said the inspiration to push the 'E' of ICE (information, communication and entertainment) came from business dailies that covered this sector extensively.

Swaraj, who takes over health and parliamentary affairs ministries, also said that in September 2000 , there was a question mark on the existence of the ministry, but as she leaves today she can say with pride the importance of the ministry has been tellingly conveyed to the critics.

In a farewell interaction with journalists on the media beat here today, Swaraj said the importance of the entertainment sector dawned on her from the formation of ICE (information, communication and entertainment) bureaus and ICE pages in business dailies about three years ago.

"I told myself, if ICE is all about information and communication, the `E' was missing and not being properly projected," she said, adding that it gives her "great satisfaction" that she has been able to give a fillip to this sector that is evident from the export earnings of the entertainment sector- from Rs 2000 million a few years ago, this year it has crossed the Rs 9000 million mark.

Asked what would be her advice or message to new minister Prasad, Swaraj jokingly said, "I have a very good rapport with him and I'll tell him directly if at all there is something that needs to be told. But that would not be done through the media and Press." 

Swaraj, looked back at her stints at Shastri Bhawan, which houses the I&B ministry amongst other ministries, said: "When I came to the I&B ministry, the Geethakrishnan panel (formed to recommend ways to downsize the government) had already suggested closing down units and axing about 5,000 jobs in the ministry. There was a question mark on the existence of the ministry and it was like getting something from the BIFR (Board for Industrial and Financial Restructuring)."

"But", she pointed out, "today it is satisfying to note that the I&B ministry's existence has been fully established and its image of being a propaganda ministry too has been dispelled. I thought of giving a new look to the (I&B) ministry and it has been successfully done, though some tasks have been left unfinished that the new minister would certainly take care of." 

Dwelling on some of the achievements of the I&B ministry during her tenure, Swaraj said that giving permission to TV channels to uplink from India, getting the entertainment sector industry status and getting the FDI in print medium issue sorted out were some of the issues that will have tremendous impact on the way the media and entertainment business is conducted in India.

"Earlier, except DD, no channel uplinked from India. Today, as many as 77 channels uplink from India," Swaraj said, pointing out that this has not only arrested outflow of foreign exchange, but also earned the government additional revenue. 

Prasar Bharati was another area which, Swaraj said, gives her satisfaction as "for the first time, the Prasar Bharati board is complete" (with an independent chairman and the likes of CEO and member finance in place). "Now nobody can accuse the government of trying to control Prasar Bharati," she added.

Meanwhile, in comments made ahead of his taking charge at Shastri Bhavan, Prasad has said he would like to have another look at the Geethakrishnan panel's recommendation on downsizing of the I&B ministry.

Swaraj had maintained that she has managed to save the ministry after rationalstion of the media units of the ministry and has finally made the finance ministry to see her point of view, which includes surrendering just 1000-odd posts in the ministry rather than 5000-odd as suggested by the Geethakrishnan report.

If Prasad decides to reverse Swaraj's decision in this matter, then it may turn out to be a major move.

Prasad is said to be close to deputy prime minister and home minister LK Advani.

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