In a bid to ‘clean up’ the government’s image before upcoming elections, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has moved with unprecedented speed to address concerns of a scam in the Commonwealth Games coverage.
The PM on Friday evening removed Aruna Sharma, Director General (DG) of Doordarshan from her post and back to her original cadre, while ordering a close examination of the broadcasting contract by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
“The Prime Minister has considered the High Level Shunglu Committee Report.. and decided to direct the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to seek explanations from the Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati and Director General, Doordarshan on the allegations made against them and recommend an appropriate course of action within two weeks,” the PM office said in a statement released late on Friday night.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, headed by Ambika Soni, has also been directed to check the expenditure claims made by UK-based SIS LIVE “to ensure that there is no over-payment. If found, such overpayments must be recovered, the PMO said.
UK-based SiS Live, one of the most prominent outdoor event coverage experts in the world, found itself drawn into an unsavory controversy late last year after allegations of corruption started doing the rounds in awarding the Games’ contracts.
The deal also attracted attention due to constant infighting within the public broadcast authority, the Prasar Bharti. Allegations had been flying thick and fast that Prasar Bharti CEO BS Lalli was running “a personal empire” from his office, paying no heed to either Board Chairperson Mrinal Pande or the rest of the Board of Directors.
Lalli and Sharma called a press conference to address the allegations against them. They pointed out that proper bidding was done before the contract was awarded and SiS Live had turned out to be the lowest bidder.
SiS Live too issued statements claiming that it did not ‘sub contract’ its deal to others or make indecent profits on the contract, adding that it would be happy to break even due to last-minute cost escalations.
According to media reports, the high level committee, which went into alleged financial irregularities in Commonwealth Games, accused Lalli and Sharma of “collusion” with SiS Live in the broadcast deal.
The two-member Committee headed by former Comptroller and Auditor General V K Shunglu has also recommended action against the two officials.
It apparently found the actual cost of the contract awarded to SIS LIVE “was at best” about Rs 111 crore, resulting in a profit of at least Rs 135 crore for SIS LIVE and Zoom Communications.
“The responsibility for providing undue benefit to SIS LIVE and Zoom Communications is primarily that of the then CEO, Prasar Bharti and Director General Doordarshan. They cannot be recused from the acts of omission and commission which facilitated this wrong doing,” the report allegedly said.
The contract for production and coverage of CWG last year was awarded to SIS LIVE at a cost of Rs 246 crore on the basis of a single bid as the other nine responses were either rejected or entities backed out.
The committee found that the contract was assigned by SIS LIVE to Zoom Communications for Rs 177 crore on the same day on which the contract was signed between Prasar Bharti and SIS LIVE.
Directing that the Shuglu report be handed over to the CBI, Manmohan Singh also urged the Group of Ministers headed by the Finance Minister to take speedy action on the tussle between Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati.
This is the third ‘scam’ that the government has moved against in the last one month. After arresting former telecom minister Raja and private parties, it had scrapped a five year old transponder lease to a Bangalore based firm from India’s space agency, ISRO, on Thursday.