Nearly 900 actors, filmmakers and other members of the Indian film industry have sent a letter to the information and broadcasting ministry against the government’s decision to merge all the branches of the Films Division, National Film Archive of India and Children’s Film Society of India with the National Film Development Corporation.

The merger is slated to take place before the end of January.

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.

In the letter, dated December 19, the signatories asked the government to put on hold the restructuring of the public institutions till the pending matters related to transparency and consultations are addressed. The signatories included actor Naseerudin Shah, filmmaker and actor Nandita Das, director Anand Patwardhan and writer and lyricist Varun Grover.

“We hoped that an exercise as important as this will involve detailed discussions with the stakeholders including members of film fraternity and the employees of the above mentioned institutions amongst others,” the statement read. “Hence, it was a surprise to know that the High Powered Committee under Shri Bimal Julka submitted its report without engaging with the primary stakeholders.”

A senior official of the Films Division, who asked to remain anonymous, told last week that over 400 employees of these bodies in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune and other cities would be affected by this decision.

The signatories expressed concern that the report had not been made public despite a Right to Information plea and said that it raises doubts about the legitimacy of the entire process.

“There is widespread speculation in the media that the entire exercise is a precursor for future privatisation of our film archives and government properties,” the signatories said.

The group urged the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to clear their doubts to “assuage the suspicions arising at this stage and take immediate action to safeguard the history of Indian cinema and the future of Indian filmmakers”.

The signatories urged the ministry to take note of their grievances before going forward with the decisions related to the media units. They sought the release of the report of the High Powered Committee.

Public funded establishments like Films Division, National Film Archive of India and Children’s Film Society of India must not be merged with a corporation like National Film Development Corporation, the group said.

“Consultations in a transparent and open manner should be undertaken with various stakeholders including filmmakers and employees vis a vis these institutions and how they see them – with full autonomy, enhanced state funding and commitment to their original mandates,” the statement read.

The group also asked the Union government to declare that the film organisations are national heritage, which is funded by taxpayers’ money and belong to the citizens.

“It must commit to protecting the archives and give written assurances in the Parliament that they will not be sold or auctioned either now or in the future,” the group said.

They also asked the Centre to address the concerns of the employees who work at these institutions.

“Any overhaul of the public institutions under the MIB must consider the larger ecosystem of public-funded film education, film production (both fiction and documentary), distribution, exhibition and archiving in the country,” the statement said. “We believe, in order to be most efficient, institutions handling all these need to function with enhanced autonomy and with greater state funding.”

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.

The central government justified its decision, saying that the merger of the film organisations would lead to “convergence of activities and resources and better coordination”. It also claimed that this will ensure “synergy and efficiency” in fulfilling the mandate of the media units.

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.

Brittas had suggested that the decision to close these organisations and stop their activities would result in erasing “the audio-visual record of this nation”.

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Centre orders shutting down of branches of Films Division, two other cinema units by January-end