Mumbai: Actor Naseeruddin Shah, filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane and lyricist-writer Varun Grover were among 850 signatories to a letter on Tuesday opposing the merger of public institutions, including the Films Division (FD) and the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), with the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).
The letter, sent to the ministry of information and broadcasting, has also been signed by academics, students, and members of civil society, among others.
It opposed the government’s proposed move to “restructure/merge” the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), FD and NFAI with NFDC, which was announced in December 2020.
The letter stated that the move, which was taken without consultation with the stakeholders, is a matter of concern due to the “lack of clarity and transparency in the process of this merger”.
In December last year, the Union cabinet had approved the merger of four government film media units with the NFDC with an aim of converging activities and resources and better coordination to ensure synergy and efficiency in achieving the mandate of the bodies.
“Since the MIB’s (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) announcement of re-assessment of these units in January 2019, we have followed several notices issued by the government. We hoped that an exercise as important as this will involve detailed discussions with the stakeholders including members of the film fraternity and the employees of the above-mentioned institutions amongst others.
“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. The fact that this report has not been made publicly available despite an RTI application raises further questions about the legitimacy of the whole process,” the letter read.
It raised concerns over the inaccessibility of the report, especially in light of the recent announcement of the government to shut down “three of these units as early as January 2022”.
According to the letter, drafted by filmmakers Prateek Vats and Shilpi Gulati, the decision of the government has led to speculation that it eventually aims to “privatise” film archives and government properties.
It called the ministry’s decision to close the FD and NFAI a “catastrophe in the name of Indian film heritage”.
“As critical stakeholders in the matter, we are concerned about the lack of clarity and transparency in the process of this merger. There is widespread speculation in the media that the entire exercise is a precursor for future privatisation of our film archives and government properties.
“Given the urgency of the matter, we request the ministry to clarify 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 who have been closely associated with these institutions in varied capacities.”
The signatories to the letter include filmmakers, actors, writers, editors from the country such as Nandita Das, Anand Patwardhan, Gitanjali Rao, Nimisha Nair, Nishtha Jain, Shama Zaidi among others.
The letter listed grievances including a request to release the report of the High Powered Committee headed by Bimal Julka “immediately”.
“Public funded institutions like FD, NFAI and CFSI must not be merged with a corporation like NFDC. 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 government must declare the FD, NFAI, CFSI archives as National Heritage funded by public money and belonging to the general public. 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. Concerns and anxieties of the employees working at these public institutions should be addressed at the earliest,” it read.
The letter emphasised that the said government institutions will function efficiently when they have “enhanced autonomy” and greater state funding.
The government must take up the responsibility to empower them and actively work towards the preservation, nourishment and propagation of the country’s cinema heritage and culture “painstakingly built by government employees, filmmakers, archivists, students and film enthusiasts of our country”, it further read.
“In view of the above, we demand the current process of re-structuring of these public institutions should be put in abeyance till the pending issues of transparency and public consultation are addressed. We sincerely hope the ministry will take cognizance of our grievances,” it added.