New Delhi: In a “clarification” that ministry officials say she drafted herself, information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani on Friday described The Wire‘s story of her ongoing stand-off with Prasar Bharati as “a deliberate, sinister, motivated campaign … launched by some elements to wrongfully tarnish the image of the ministry of I&B”.
Prasar Bharati is India’s autonomous public broadcaster, created by an Act of parliament. It runs Doordarshan and All India Radio.
The story, reported by Swati Chaturvedi, quoted Surya Prakash, chairman of the Prasar Bharati board, as saying the ministry “since December 2017” has been refusing to release funds allocated to PB under the central government’s budget, forcing the broadcaster to draw on its contingency funds in order to pay its employees’ salaries for January and February.
According to Prasar Bharati sources, Irani berated Prakash on Friday for “leaking” details of the salary crisis to “anti-nationals” but then also sought a compromise so that the dispute does not escalate. Prakash, The Wire has learned, insisted that the issue should now be taken up by parliament – which is the source of the broadcaster’s status and autonomy – and that a committee of MPs review the issues involved.
Significantly, Friday’s “clarification” issued by Irani does not deny Prakash’s charge that salary funds have been withheld and merely disputes the suggestion that this is “as a retaliation to Prasar Bharati not obeying certain dictates of the ministry”. Instead, the minister seeks to justify the blocking of funds by talking about a newly introduced Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which is yet to be signed by PB.
“[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. For the record, irrespective of repeated reminders from the Ministry, no MoU has been signed by Prasar Bharti.”
Prasar Bharati sources told The Wire that the facts are “somewhat different”.
While the general financial rules (GFR) governing the disbursal of sanctioned amounts were amended in February 2017 to include a provision for an MoU between “all autonomous bodies receiving budgetary support over Rs 5 crore annually” and their administrative ministries, there is, in the present case, no final draft of the document. This is because there is a dispute between the ministry and PB over its contents, the sources noted. They said PB has repeatedly asked for explanations from the ministry about this MoU and that the PB board has not finalised or approved the draft.
Irani’s clarification does not explain why the ministry continued to transfer funds until December 2017 if the absence of an MoU really means that money cannot be transferred.
Asked by The Wire for his view on the ministry’s statement, Jawhar Sircar, a former CEO of Prasar Bharati, raised a similar question: “Have all other autonomous bodies signed it and if not, why have their salary grants not been stopped?”
Prasar Bharati sources said the MoU Irani wants the broadcaster to sign would allow her to act as “super-censor” of content.
Clarification Regarding Release of Funds to Prasar Bharti
Posted On: 02 MAR 2018 2:14PM by PIB Delhi
It has come to the notice of the Ministry that a deliberate, sinister, motivated campaign has been launched by some elements to wrongfully tarnish the image of the Ministry of I&B by reporting that money to Prasar Bharti is not being released after December, 2017 as a retaliation to Prasar Bharti not obeying certain dictates of the Ministry. The misinformation is based on ill-will and incorrect appreciation with half baked facts and is tantamount to causing loss of reputation of the Government in public eyes. It is patently defamatory in nature. Hence, it is important to bring the following facts to light:
Fiscal prudence and accountability is the very fulcrum of the functioning of any Government organisation. Prasar Bharti 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. 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. For the record, irrespective of repeated reminders from the Ministry, no MoU has been signed by Prasar Bharti.
As an example of how fiscal accountability leads to curbing of wasteful expenditure, the following point illustrates it:
By bringing in Human Resource Information System (HRIS) in Prasar Bharti, 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 cr per month for the salary head (Rs. 360 cr 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.
However, the Ministry would like to re-iterate that the Government remains committed to protect the interest of all Prasar Bharti employees.