Prasar Bharati financial rejig near completion

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is close to taking a final decision on the financial restructuring of pubcaster Prasar Bharati, which manages Doordarshan and All India Radio.

A group of ministers (GoM) set up to look into the issue has finalised its report, which now will be vetted by the information and broadcast ministry before being put up at a cabinet meeting.

A government official, while confirming that the restructuring report is complete, said, "The GoM and I&B ministry will have to finalise the format in which it will be put up before the Cabinet as the broad contours have been thrashed out."

Though the matter is likely to go to the Cabinet after the present session of Parliament gets over in a couple of weeks' time, the official refrained from giving a time frame for a formal announcement in this regard.

One of the options mentioned in the report, according to sources, is the government holding an equity stake in Prasar Bharati Corporation in lieu of the assets (including real estate and infrastructure), which would be transferred from government books to the Corporation.

However, the GoM has attempted to tread carefully on the issue of the sensitive status of employees of Prasar Bharati.

Almost 99 per cent of the over 45,000 employee base of Prasar Bharati is treated as part of the government and enjoy various perks as government servants.

Transferring the employees to Prasar Bharati, an autonomous body created under an Act of Parliament, will make them lose some of the privileges like low-cost housing facility.

The government official said the cabinet will have to take a final view on such matters.

Employee status has been a ticklish issue within and outside Prasar Bharati with various employees' unions of the Corporation opposing any change in their status, least of all being categorized as private sector employees.

The workers' unions had even petitioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year to scrap the Prasar Bharati Act and revert DD and AIR to full government control.

A committee, headed by I&B secretary SK Arora, was appointed by the government on 30 March, 2005 with the mandate to suggest a viable capital and financial structure for the cash-strapped Prasar Bharati to facilitate the strengthening of its functioning.

The terms of reference of the panel was to propose a viable capital and financial structure for Prasar Bharati, while taking into account the broadcaster's role as a pubcaster and the need to maximise revenue-earning potential through commercial operations.

This panel was to submit its report to a GoM that was to add its own perspective.

Though Prasar Bharati closed the last financial year ended 31 March 2006 with a record revenue mop up of Rs 12.47 billion, the gap between expenditure and income is still huge.

For FY07, Prasar Bharati has set itself a revenue target of Rs 15 billion.

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