<b>XIII LOK SABHA DEBATES, <i> Session II (Winter Session) </i> </b>
XIII LOK SABHA DEBATES, Session II (Winter Session) Tuesday, December 21, 1999/Agrahayana 29, 1921 (Saka )

Title: Discussion regarding functioning of Prasar Bharati.

16.05 hrs.

MR. SPEAKER: Now, we will take up the discussion under Rule 193. I appeal to the hon. Members that we have to complete this discussion today itself.

SHRI S. JAIPAL REDDY (MIRYALGUDA): Today, once again, I rise to speak on Prasar Bharati, which has been paralysed in its functioning, more in sorrow than in anger because the functioning of Prasar Bharati has been subverted deliberately and malignantly and consistently. The BJP-led Government has given three I&B Ministers in less than two years, and they spoke in different voices. But may I also hasten to add that there was a cynical common pattern to all their actions in regard to Prasar Bharati.

When my good friend, Pramod Mahajanji, was the Minister of Information, I used to be quite comfortable with him because of his disarming political candour. He thought, that the Government must have its own channel now that there are private channels. I am not as comfortable with Shri Jaitley because he talks very sweetly about liberalism; I am afraid, he is no less a slippery customer.

Before I deal with the various blows that were so mercilessly dealt to Prasar Bharati by the BJP-led Government, may I go into the history of this Board? May I also deal with the first principles of democracy? The Charter of Canadian Corporation starts with the famous words, "The air belongs to all of us". It was Jawaharlal Nehru, way back in 1948, speaking in the Constituent Assembly, who desired that the All India Radio should, in due course, approximate to the BBC. At that time, we did not have Doordarshan.

There was a Committee headed by Chanda in 1960s, which recommended an autonomous corporation for All India Radio. After 1977, there was Verghese Committee Report, which also recommended an autonomous corporation for both All India Radio and Doordarshan. When the Congress came back in 1980, the Congress Government also appointed two Committees. One was Joshi Committee, the other was Parthasarathy Committee. One thing that is common to all these Committee reports was, each one of them recommended formation of an autonomous corporation. It was because of the consensus that had been evolved in the country over years and decades through so many expert committee reports that Parliament of India could pass the present Act, the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990 unanimously in both Houses.

Sir, the hon. Minister, who is a noted lawyer, is well aware of the historic judgement delivered by the Supreme Court in 1995. The Supreme Court, amongst other things, said:

"In the interest of ensuring plurality of opinions, the broadcasting media cannot be allowed to be under a monopoly of anyone -- be it the monopoly of Government or of an individual body or organisation. Government control, in effect, is not conducive to the free expression of contending viewpoints".

After this Supreme Court judgement, I do not think, anybody has an option but to confer optimal statutory autonomy on both Akashvani and Doordarshan.

Sir, I happened to become a Minister. I was there only for a few months. When I became a Minister, the first statement I made was that my job would be to render myself jobless. I do not think that our democracy is so backward to need the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In fact, in no advanced country in the world do we have any Ministry called the Information and Broadcasting. I am really happy that my good friend, Shri Arun Jaitley, has been given another portfolio, namely, the Disinvestment. If he was unemployed, he would have kept meddling in All India Radio and Doordarshan. I hope, because of the additional portfolio, he would not be tempted to do that. Being an optimist, Mr. Speaker, Sir, I should not be faulted for hoping against hope.

Sir, one charge that has been levelled against me is that I got the Prasar Bharati Board constituted towards the end of my tenure as a Minister. I would like to set the records straight. I made this point repeatedly but some people are unwilling to learn, therefore, I am obliged to repeat.

Sir, I became a Minister on May 1, and made all these statements. I notified the 1990 Act on 22nd July, 1997 and said that the Prasar Bharati Act would become operational from 15th of September, 1997. So, it was not a step taken overnight but it was a step taken after a due process. Then, an Ordinance was promulgated on 30th October, 1997. At that time, at least nobody in the world knew that the Jain Commission Report would be leaked and our Government would come under a cloud. The Ordinance was promulgated on 30th October, 1997. The Government wrote to the Chairman of the Selection Committee, namely the Vice-President, to go about the business of selecting persons. The hon. Minister knows full well that the selections made by the Selection Committee are final and binding on the Government. The Government has no role to play in the matter at all.

Sir, be that as it may. Then, the BJP led Government came to power at the Centre. What did it do? It wanted to get rid of Shri Gill. I am neither attached to Shri Gill nor do I contend that he was the only competent man. There may be other equally competent persons.

I cannot help but refer to the manner in which Shri Gill was removed. Before the Parliament was adjourned, for the first time in the history of free India, 124 Members of Rajya Sabha wrote a letter to the Prime Minister of India, with a copy to the President of India, that they would oppose this amendment. The Bill was not deliberately taken to Rajya Sabha. After Parliament was adjourned, they promulgated an ordinance.

There is a tendency to equate this ordinance with the ordinance I promulgated. When I promulgated the ordinance, because of the support lent by the Congress Party we had the support in both the Houses, I consulted the Congress Party's leader. Secondly, there is nothing wrong in promulgating an ordinance. But they did not produce it before the House. They may turn around and ask, `Did you produce?' I did not because I could not. I was not around to produce the ordinance before Parliament. But they were around. They promulgated the ordinance and threw out, the Chief Executive Officer, But, the I & B Minister never turned up in Parliament with the ordinance. This is a biggest fraud played on the Constitution, having regard to the manner in which Rajya Sabha was deliberately bypassed.

Okay, Shri Gill is not indispensable, but somebody else could have been appointed. Nobody has been appointed. Two years were completed. Two members of the Board had to be retired. I was told on April 1, 1999; subject to confirmation by the Minister (I am not supposed to know what is transpiring in his Ministry) that there was a notification to the effect that two of the six members of Prasar Bharati Board would be retired through a neutral process of drawing of lots. One, of course, was elevated as Governor. I do not know what happened to this notification. On one fine morning, two people were handpicked -- Prof. Romilla Thapar and Shri Rajendra Yadav.

To call Prof. Romilla Thapar no more than a Leftist is to indulge in intellectual violence, analytical vulgarity and academic obscenity. Prof. Romilla Thapar, ironically, ten days before she was removed, was honoured with the Fellowship of the British Royal Academy, the highest honour the Great Britain can confer in the area of social sciences. The first Indian to receive this honour was Prof. Radhakrishnan. The other Indians who received this honour include such people like M.N. Srinivas, the founder of Indian sociology, who passed away recently and Prof. K.N. Raj, the doyen of Indian economists. Prof. Romilla Thapar is an internationally acclaimed historian. They heap humiliation on a person of this stature! They see red in every bush. They are practising McCarthyism. Shri Rajendra Yadav is nothing more than a Leftist for them. Okay, they are, of course, benighted leftists who need to be consigned to the dustbin of history because the blessed BJP is in power. What else can be done?

What else can be done? But what did they do with the other people? Prof. U.R. Rao has been found fit for only four-year term. Do we have a more eminent Space Scientist who had hands on experience with communications? Who had more to do with the INSAT than Prof. U.R. Rao? May I enlighten the Minister that Prof. U.R. Rao received the prestigious International Award from the Association of International Aeronautics for his magnum opus? He wrote on the social Applications of Space Technology. He was only given a four-year term!

Shri Abid Hussain who distinguished himself as a bureaucrat, as a diplomat, who is now serving as a rapporteur on the UN Human Rights Commission has been considered fit for only four-year term. Does it behove any Government inflict this kind of mortification on men of our eminence? They were, at least, kind enough to Shri Verghese. They gave him a six-year term but they kept one six-year vacancy unfilled deliberately. For whom, Sir?

Now, Mr. Speaker, Sir, we have a Prasar Bharati Board. What a phantom Board we have! We have an acting Director-General of Doordarshan, we have an acting Director-General of All India Radio, we have an acting Chief Executive Officer. Nothing against the present Chief Executive Officer. He is an excellent officer. But he is an Additional Secretary to the Government of India. That is my complaint. There is no Chairman. Shri Nikhil Chakraborty was also condemned as a Leftist though he was the doyen of Indian journalists, be that as it may, he passed away. Sir, they did not deem it fit to fill the vacancy of Chairman. They have not framed the rules so far under the Prasar Bharati Act. This is an act of deliberate omission. They are guilty of masterly inaction.

Mr. Speaker, Sir, this Government is not only willing to wound but willing to kill. But they are unable to do so because they do not have majority in the Rajya Sabha. If it could, it would have rolled back the Prasar Bharati into the Bay of Bengal. What are they instead? It is stifling. The infant is being stifled. If the infant is stifled in this manner, the growth of this institution would remain retarded.

Therefore, I said, Mr. Speaker, Sir, I am speaking more with agony because there is no point in losing temper on people who cannot be credited with sensitivity. Now, our Minister came out with a new proposition that `there must be persons only drawn from the Media.' It was said in the past, `The war is much too important to be left to the Generals. The Prasar Bharati is much too important to be left to the Media experts.' There must be experts drawn from different disciplines to facilitate, what should I say, cross-fertilization of ideas. They must have people from different disciplines. It is never too late. Why I am saying so, why I am wasting my breath, because it is not too late to resurrect this body. And now, an orchestrated campaign has been unleashed to say that the Prasar Bharati Board has failed.

You never allowed it to function. It was never fully constituted. You have been trying to sabotage it from the word go and from the day one.

Shri Arun Jaitley, being a professional lawyer, is fond of his own professionalism. None is opposed to professionalism. But professionalism at what level? It may be there at the level of functioning but not at the level of the members of Prasar Bharati. I am happy to find Dr. Nitish Sengupta here who served a committee. He is also one of those who headed one Committee. I should say in fairness to him that he made many useful recommendations. I drew upon some of the recommendations. I am referring to those things when I promulgated an Ordinance. I hope our hon. Minister will prove my fears to be liars. In the name of professionalisation, he may try to indulge in saffronisation. That is my solid fear. I want to enquire with our non-BJP partners of NDA as to why none of them has been given HRD portfolio, Home Ministry or IB. Dear friends, please wake up and realise that none of you are considered fit for these portfolios. You cannot be trusted to carry on the Agenda.

SHRI KHARABELA SWAIN (BALASORE): Do you want us to learn just to cross over to Congress just as you have learnt to cross over to Congress? Are you asking everybody to go there or what? Do you want us to do just as what you have done?

SHRI S. JAIPAL REDDY : Some interventions are treated with benign neglect. Our hon. Minister may say Prasar Bharati is on trial. Through you I would like to tell him that it is not Prasar Bharati which is on trial. It is the Minister who is on trial. It is you who are in the dock. I hope at least now he will rise to the collective call of the country and liberate the electronic media from the Government's stranglehold.

I can give examples galore when the Government intervened, not during his Ministry, but at the time of his predecessor. But I do not want to waste the time of the House. I am dealing with the principle. Therefore, I want the hon. Minister to rise to the occasion and see that this infant is allowed to grow at its natural pace and our hon. Minister should also realise that we have the largest network in the world. If you think the Government must have its own Channel, then you must have your own newspaper. You can start your own newspaper, but you will not find newspaper readers. Therefore, please recover from your ancient background because you are living in BC while we are moving into the third millennium. I hope through internet, you will be able to travel into third millennium along with all of us.

DR. NITISH SENGUPTA (CONTAI): Mr. Chairman, Sir, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.

Since Shri S. Jaipal Reddy referred to the Committee which I headed on Prasar Bharati, which happened to be the last of the many Committees on the subject, I would like to give a brief background. That Committee was set up when Shri P.A. Sangma was the Minister of Information and Broadcasting. I still remember the day when he called me to head that Committee. I said, `Look, I am not a mediaperson. Why are you troubling me', to which he said, `No, I want someone like you, a management expert, an administration expert to tell us where the Act has gone wrong.'

Let me come to the background of 1990, till which time Doordarshan had a monopoly. That was why the question of autonomy became terribly important. The Verghese Committee and all the other Committees felt that since the Government had the uncontrolled power over news and current affairs; the political party in power could always take an unfair advantage of the complete control over Doordarshan and All India Radio. Therefore, autonomy was desirable. But by one of those paradoxes in history, Doordarshan lost that monopoly power almost before the ink was dried on the Prasar Bharati Act.

You will recall that the role that CNN played when the Kuwait-Iraq conflict erupted. The tremendous power wielded by satellite communication and the dish antenna was discovered for the first time. Then, all the other channels followed, both Indian and foreign.

16.31 hours (Shri Basu Deb Acharia in the Chair)

Mr. Chairman, today, the Indian viewer is no longer tied down to the monopoly of Doordarshan at all. He has a tremendous amount of choice: BBC, CNN and many other Indian channels. In fact, one of my recommendations in that Committee was that it was pointless to stick to a position that we would not give permission for uplinking to these satellite channels. That was a short-term Committee and no Committee has produced so much in a report as that Committee did with such a low cost to the Government. Neither the Chairman nor the members took any honorarium or anything. They took only the travelling expenses.

After Shri P.A. Sangma came Shrimati Sushma Swaraj. She told me to galvanize the Committee again and submit a Report quickly. I was going to submit an Interim Report and then the Final Report. I was asked to submit the Final Report quickly. Later on, Shri C.M. Ibrahim became the Minister. He had very strong views on satellite channels. He said, `Only over my dead body will the Indian Government permit uplinking facility to foreign channels.' I said, `You can take a view there but can you prevent the Internet from coming in? What is the point in allowing the satellite channels to go on like free floating sovereign agencies without any control? It is much better to give them licence which will not only give the Government the power to put conditions for approval and for licence but also bring in a lot of foreign exchange to the coffers of the Government of India.' It was done but anyway today the autonomy is gone. Today, the Indian viewer is no longer tied down to the monopoly of Doordarshan. Therefore, the question of autonomy becomes less and less important. That is the background which I would like hon. Members to appreciate.

A lot of reference has been made to the BBC. The BBC also had the first channel only for the Government, to disseminate the Government's views. The BBC Charter also has a provision for the BBC to be given directives by the Government although after the Second World War that power has been exercised only once. During the Falkland Islands dispute, when the BBC was giving a lot of publicity to the sinking of an Argentinian cruiser by a British submarine, there was a lot of human angle to it and it showed how the British submarines were cruel to the Argentinians who were going down under the sea. At that time, the only directive which has been issued in half-a-century by the Government to the BBC was, `Please do not show it too much.' But this was not done.

It is not so much whether there is a law but much depends on the traditions that we build. The various practices and the kind of healthy traditions that we build gradually are really what are going to govern. After that conflict in the Gulf, there has been a lot of political changes. Maybe, it may take some time for the Government to appreciate the reality. I hope, they will try to recast the Prasar Bharati Act taking into account the vastly changed and fast-changing situation.

I had referred to two processes of change. When my Committee was deliberating, there was nothing called DTH but basically it was only about dish antenna and all that. But shortly after the Report was submitted, DTH came into the picture and again complicated the matter.