Nine Censor Board members followed chief Leela Samson’s footsteps and quit on Saturday to protest what they described as the "cavalier and dismissive manner" in which the government treated the board.
Samson resigned from the board amid a controversy over clearance of controversial film ‘MSG: The Messenger of God’ featuring Dera Saccha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. She did not specifically refer to the clearance to the film but cited alleged "interference, coercion and corruption of panel members and officers of the organisation who are appointed by the ministry" as reasons.
The board members said in a resignation letter to the information and broadcasting ministry they wanted to step down because the government was not allowing them any autonomy. The members also alleged that the ministry had filled the advisory panel with "people with questionable credentials" without heeding the board’s recommendations.
"It is our firm position that given the cavalier and dismissive manner in which the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) is treated by the government, it is impossible to perform this duty with even a modicum of efficacy or autonomy," they said in the letter.
Those who quit include film show host Rajeev Masand, theatre personality MK Raina, JNU professor Ira Bhaskar, actor Arundhati Nag and film-maker Shaji Karun. The Censor Board has 23 members.
"Being on the board was a frustrating experience because of interference," Masand told Hindustan Times.
In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, Samson accused the information and broadcasting ministry of stifling her functioning by meddling in "every new film being released. Samson's term expired last September and has been extended on a temporary basis every three months since then.
"There was total interference on every film, big and small. A lot of pressure was put on the film PK through various fundamentalist organisations and through panel members of the board to cut scenes," said Samson.
The board rejected ‘MSG: The Messenger of God’ on fears the promotional film -- which shows Singh performing miracles, preaching to thousands and beating up gangsters while singing and dancing -- could spark protests and religious tension.
But the film was then referred to an appeals tribunal which cleared its release for Friday, although it was later delayed over the row.
The government denied Samson’s charges of interference and asked for evidence
"The chairperson talks about coercion, we as the government would like to see that SMS, or a letter where she or any other member has been coerced. Then we would take appropriate action," minister of state in the information and broadcasting ministry Rajyavardhan Rathore said.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley said was regrettable the UPA appointees had decided to politicise routine issues.
In a blog titled 'Rebels Without a Cause', Jaitley, who is also the Finance Minister, said neither he nor his junior minister Rathore communicated with any member of the censor board.
"It is the UPA-appointed Central Censor Board which has since continued. If there is any corruption, the UPA appointees have themselves to blame. I only wished that the fact of corruption had been communicated even once by the Chairperson of the Censor Board to me," Jaitley wrote in the blog.