The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting released Rs 365 crore to Prasar Bharati after the public broadcaster signed a memorandum of understanding with it just three days before the financial year ended in March, according to a report in The Indian Express. The centre has allegedly held back funds for the public broadcasting agency since January.
The ministry and Prasar Bharati – which runs Doordarshan and All India Radio – have been engaged in a stand-off after the public broadcaster blocked the ministry’s move to appoint an Indian Administrative Service officer to its board and fill two key editorial posts with journalists on high salaries. Differences also cropped up over Doordarshan’s refusal to pay Rs 2.92 crore to a Mumbai-based private firm that covered the 2017 International Film Festival of India.
In March, Prasar Bharati accused the ministry of holding back salary funds in retaliation. The Centre, however, has maintained that the funds had been withheld as the broadcaster had not signed a memorandum of understanding with it – Prasar Bharati, as are all autonomous bodies receiving grants-in-aid from the government, is bound by the General Financial Rules 2017 to sign an MoU with the ministry that lays down its activities and how the money granted during that financial year is used.
According to the report in The Indian Express on Thursday, the broadcaster signed the MoU on March 28, which ensured funds were released. However, the MoU has two points that could cause further conflict, the report claimed.
Prasar Bharati “shall endeavour to augment its productivity and efficiency in its operations and timely pay its dues to government department/organisations including space segment and spectrum charges to the Department of Space and Department of Telecommunications”, The Indian Express quoted from the memorandum.
This entails an estimated Rs 1,800 crore in spectrum and space charges – expenses that a Group of Ministers in 2012 waived till March 31, 2011. Prasar Bharati has not paid these charges since then, the report said.
The exemption was an indirect subsidy for programmes and uneconomic stations the broadcaster has to run, Jawahar Sircar, who was Prasar Bharati CEO from February 2012 to October 2016, told the newspaper.
Another rider in the memorandum was that Prasar Bharati will bear the entire liability of the people recruited after October 5, 2017, while the Centre will bear only 80% of the salary, the report claimed. This would mean an additional Rs 60 to Rs 70 crore annually. In 2012, the Group of Ministers had promised to cover the entire cost of Prasar Bharati’s full-time employees.
Prasar Bharati CEO Vempati told The Indian Express that these issues would be discussed at a board meeting, and that since Prasar Bharati is governed by an Act of Parliament, “there is flexibility in the MoU” to preserve its autonomy.