The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has decided to close all the branches of the Films Division, National Film Archive of India and Children’s Film Society of India before the end of January, according to a letter seen by Scroll.in.
The ministry had announced in December last year that these organisations along with the Directorate of Film Festivals would be merged with the National Film Development Corporation, which produces arthouse movies as well as runs the co-production platform Film Bazaar.
“The merger of film media units under one corporation will lead to convergence of activities and resources and better coordination, thereby ensuring synergy and efficiency in achieving the mandate of each media unit,” a statement from the ministry had said.
On December 9, the information and broadcasting ministry wrote to these organisations asking them to prepare a detailed action plan for the closure of their branch offices.
A senior official of the Films Division, who asked to remain anonymous, told Scroll.in that over 400 employees of these bodies in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune and other cities would be affected by this decision.
Two days before this letter, on December 7, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas had written to Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur to draw his “attention to the grievous allegations and reasonable apprehensions and suspicions being raised in the society regarding the proposed merger”.
He said that the National Film Development Corporation is registered under the Companies Act and “has to generate profit for its operation and sustainability”. He asked how it could “undertake projects and works of non-profit nature like preservation of archives of invaluable films, etc. and non-profit activities” being undertaken by the Films Division and Directorate of Film Festivals.
These activities were vital “for the preservation of [India’s] rich heritage as well as for promoting qualitative ventures rather than mere focusing on commercial productions or profits”, he wrote. “It cannot be measured in terms of money.”
Brittas suggested that the decision to close these organisations and stop their activities would result in erasing “the audio-visual record of this nation”.
The MP also expressed apprehensions about the future of the assets of these organisations.
“It is learnt that these entities have owned properties and other assets in almost all prime cities, that too in prime locations, and that those properties have a value of several thousands of crores,” he wrote. “The aggrieved stake holders are alleging that the real intention of the merger/closure is to slowly privatise the NFDC, once the merger is over, or to liquidate the same after a couple of years so that these assets can be sold or leased out for throwaway prices.”
Brittas asked Thakur to make the reports and documents related to the merger and monetisation of the assets public as well as the action plan to ensure that staff would not be retrenched.
“I further request you to keep all further actions in abeyance until the above steps are completed,” he said.
Meanwhile, on December 10, the government appointed Central Board of Film Certification Chief Executive Officer Ravinder Bhakar to take additional responsibilities of the director general of Films Division and the CEO of the Children’s Film Society of India.
Both these positions were held by Smita Vats Sharma, who is also the additional director general of the Press Information Bureau.