Smriti Irani says no salary till Prasar Bharati agrees to performance targets

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Information & Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani today said her ministry has not released funds for the payment of salaries to the employees of India’s public broadcaster Prasar Bharati because the ministry and the organization have not been able to agree on a set of performance parameters for the broadcaster to achieve.

Irani said the memorandum of understanding (MoU), which specifies the goals and targets, submitted by Prasar Bharti were not as per ‘prescribed norms’, and was therefore rejected.

“The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been pursuing with Prasar Bharati, since March 2017, to sign the MoU and several reminders have been issued to them. However, Prasar Bharati had not furnished the MoU as per prescribed norms,” Irani said today.

Prasar Bharti then gave a revised MoU, which too was sent back to it, Irani said.

“The revised MoU received from Prasar Bharati has been considered in the Ministry and sent to them with some modifications to take further steps for signing the MoU with the Ministry,” she said, responding to a question by Lok Sabha MP Mullappally Ramachandran and Balka Suman.

Irani said money can be disbursed only if Prasar Bharti and the government come to an agreement on the matter and sign the MoU.

“As per the recommendations of the Expenditure Management Commission chaired by Dr. Bimal Jalan, Eminent Economist/Public Policy Expert, each Ministry /Department should enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with their Autonomous Bodies, on the same lines as done for Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs), clearly laying down the performance parameters as also the roadmap to carry out the intended course of action,” she said.

The parliamentary question comes in the context of an article in ‘The Wire’ that claimed Irani was trying to influence Prasar Bharati head Surya Prakash on certain decisions such as whether or not certain functions were to be outsourced or not and whether certain journalists were to be appointed to the organization or not.

According to the article, Prakash has been resisting attempts by Irani to interfere in the running of the autonomous organization.

On the other hand, other sources indicate that Irani is trying to ‘shake up’ the organization and change the way business is conducted, and that this has hurt vested interests.

In other words, some portray the tussle as that between a minister trying to encroach upon the autonomy of Prasar Bharati, while others paint a picture of a minister trying to bring financial discipline and accountability in an organization that has been less than prudent with its abundant resources.

The original idea behind giving autonomy to Prasar Bharati in 1997 was to insulate it from governmental influence and raise its journalistic standards, making it akin to the BBC of Britain and the NPR of the US. However, it remains debatable whether Doordarshan and All India Radio have achieved the intended outcome.

The Wire article also claimed that Prasar Bharati will run out of cash by next month due to the refusal to fund the salary payment, which amounts to about Rs 3 cr.

Irani, however, said that Prasar Bharti has a revenue of Rs 1,400 cr per year.

Quoting from the Bimal Jalan report, she suggested that organizations like the Prasar Bharti — which are supposed to serve a public purpose above and beyond carrying out the wishes of the government — should be more independent in their funding.

“As per the report, Organizations that distinctly serve “a public purpose” specially in sectors with significant externalities need to be strengthened further and at the same time may be encouraged to raise internal resources,” the minister said.

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