Known for her penchant for stoking controversies, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has given fresh fodder to her detractors with her announcement that the government would acquire two television channels owned by the Ponzi fund funded Saradha Group that went bust.
Banerjee's announcement about taking over the two channels - Tara Muzik and Tara News - "on grounds of humanity" came a month after the now collapsed Saradha Group announced their closure, throwing their 168 employees jobless.
"We will give ex-gratia payment of Rs. 16,000 each to the 168 employees of the two channels for the month of May," Banerjee said, before informing journalists that last month she had paid Rs. 26 lakh - the sale proceeds of her paintings - to the two channels.
"The employees of the channels were up against tough times but I am happy that their bad days are now gone," she said.
However, the opposition pooh poohed her claims saying no state government is empowered to acquire television channel as it ran contrary to the laws of the land.
They also termed the chief minister's assertions as efforts to use the two channels for propaganda purposes.
The Left questioned the decision on moral and legal grounds and sought its reversal saying "it was a waste of public money".
"We don't think the state government has the legal right to acquire private TV channels. Moreover, how ethical is it to acquire the assets of a company which is being probed for a scam, and especially when the matter is sub-judice?" Leader of Opposition and CPI-M politburo member Surjya Kanta Mishra told mediapersons.
Mishra said the government's priority should be to compensate the hundreds of thousands poor people who have lost their hard-earned money which they parked in the Saradha Group companies.
CPI-M central committee member Md Salim said the decision was designed to force the employees of the two channels to "withdraw criminal charges against the owners (the now arrested Sudipa Sen led Saradha Group)".
"Later, she will wash her hands off the entire matter saying it was not legally tenable," said Salim.
Bharatiya Janata party state president Rahul Sinha said the government's decision was illegal according to the Prasar Bharati Act.
"The State government cannot run a broadcast media," said Sinha.
Minister of State for Railways and senior state Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury said Banerjee was only "feigning sympathy" for the affected employees.
"She is trying to take over the channels with the ulterior motive of publicising what she claims to be the successes of her government."
Questions have also been raised about the government zeroing in on the two channels when around a dozen media units of the Saradha Group are now closed rendering 1,600 journalists and non-journalists jobless.
The two Bengali channels were bought by the Saradha Group in 2011, but were facing hard times since the management served closure notices just before the Bengali New Year Day, April 15, allegedly without giving salaries pending for the past three months.