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MIB calls for 'fiscal prudence' in Prasar Bharati

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NEW DELHI: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) on Friday justified certain government directives to India’s publicly funded national broadcaster Prasar Bharati Corporation by saying “fiscal prudence” was the need of the hour, while reiterating its commitment to safeguard interest of the organisation’s employees.

“Fiscal prudence and accountability is the very fulcrum of the functioning of any government organisation. Prasar Bharati is as much bound by the general financial rules (GFR) of the government of India as any ministry or any organisation receiving grants-in-aid from the government,” MIB said in a statement, which, apparently, looks like a rebuttal to a report appearing in news website The Wire that questioned certain decisions of minister Smriti Irani.

MIB also termed the story, without directly referring to it, as a “deliberate, sinister (and) motivated campaign” to “tarnish” its image by putting out a report that was “based on ill-will and incorrect appreciation with half baked facts”.

“As per the provision of GFR, any autonomous organisation receiving grant-in-aid must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the ministry, clearly bringing out the physical and financial targets with timelines for activities to be done by utilising the said grant during that financial year,” MIB clarified further, adding, “For the record, irrespective of repeated reminders from the ministry, no MoU has been signed by Prasar Bharati.”

In a news report, headlined 'Angered by Prasar Bharati’s Defiance, Smriti Irani Blocks Salary Funds for DD, AIR’, which went viral on social media over the last few days, The Wire quoted Prasar Bharati chairman Surya Prakash, serving his second term, as saying contingency funds were utilised to pay salaries to employees for the month of January and February 2018. It also concluded that if the standoff continued, the pubcaster will run out of money by April.

The story's reporter, a freelance journalist who’s also written a book on BJP’s online troll army, highlighted that the federal government earmarked around Rs 2,800 crore in 2018-19 towards Prasar Bharati where the allocation is routed through the MIB, which releases monthly installments for the salaries of its approximately 5000 employees.

The report went on to state, quoting unnamed sources in the pubcaster, that the ministry had been “raising queries and creating problems” before releasing funds and, since December, has “not released money for salaries, forcing a drawdown of contingency funds”. The crisis, the report quoted the sources as saying, began when Prakash started questioning some of  Irani’s actions.

It must be stated here that Indiantelevision.com is not in a position to independently verify the allegations made in The Wire report and has based its present news story on an official statement put out by MIB on the website of Press Information Bureau on a day when majority of Indians took a public holiday to celebrate the festival of colours - Holi.

However, illustrating how fiscal accountability led to “curbing of wasteful expenditure” in the Prasar Bharati, which controls Doordarshan and All India Radio, MIB said, “By bringing in Human Resource Information System in Prasar Bharati, at repeated insistence of the ministry, exact amount of expenditure on employees has been worked out and this has resulted in savings to the tune of nearly Rs 30 crore per month for the salary head (Rs 360 crore a year). The Sam Pitroda Committee had also suggested a number of measures such as manpower audit etc. to enhance financial discipline. Hence, we are hopeful that following similar footsteps, together a lot can be done to enhance transparency and accountability.”

At a media conference last week Irani had publicly questioned Prasar Bharati management’s ability in generating additional revenues. “The tragedy was that private broadcasters grew at the cost of [pubcaster] Prasar Bharati [riding DD’s FTA FreeDish platform],” Irani had said, adding, “How can we leverage the infrastructure that taxpayer has paid for so that good content is available [and] there is increased ad spend because of sheer power of reach of Prasar Bharati?”

Meanwhile, according to a report in The Economic Times, the MIB is scrutinising the pay packages given to senior officers in Prasar Bharati and pointing out cases of mismatch in positions to pay. Being an administrative ministry, it claims to have more power in deciding the pay for current and retired employees, superseding the directive of Prasar Bharati.

In one particular case, Rajeev Singh, an officer at the additional secretary position in the finance wing, is drawing the salary of a secretary. This leads to a difference in pay of Rs 20,000. Seven other employees in the rank of additional director general are being probed with regard to their appointments.

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