The government appears set to strip the existing Prasar Bharati Board of its powers, the apex body formed 17 years ago to provide autonomy to the state-run All India Radio and Doordarshan, now mired in corruption and controversies.
The Law ministry has given a go ahead to Information and Broadcasting ministry to take legal recourse to suspend the existing board and put in place a government official in-charge of the board, HT has learnt.
Earlier, also the government had appointed Additional Secretary in the ministry as Chief Executive Officer of the Prasar Bharati during the period new CEOs were being selected.
However, senior I&B ministry officials said the decision on whether an Ordinance or a amendment to the Prasar Bharati Act to dissolve the present board would be taken after October 25, when the global broadcasting union is supposed to clear the plan for Commonwealth Games coverage.
The government’s worry is whether the present Prasar Bharti board would be able to provide world class coverage of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, given its sorry plight is understood to have triggered the drastic move.
The Board, which gets around Rs 1,500 crore (Rs 15 billion) every year from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, has been virtually defunct since eight months, plagued by severe infighting among its top officials.
On directions from the Prime Minister’s office, the I&B Ministry had sought an opinion from the Law Ministry “on available options” to stem the rot, since the Prasar Bharti Act does not allow any direct intervention in its affairs.
A report in this regard has already been submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office, I&B minister Ambika Soni said, last week. She, however, refused to elaborate on the contents of the report.
In its opinion, the Law Ministry is learnt to have stated that the government “is empowered to take away the powers of a Board in case it finds that the Board has failed to function.”
“The government has no option other than to amend the Act by which the Prasar Bharti Corporation was constituted, given its miserable plight,” said a senior Law Ministry official, on the condition of anonymity. “Once the powers are taken away, the Board is assumed to be dissolved and the government can go in for a fresh body. It can happen by an ordinance or taking the matter directly to parliament,” the official said.
The Central Vigilance Commission was looking into seven cases of financial irregularities related to Prasar Bharti, refered to it by the I&B Ministry on directions of the Delhi High Court.