Doordarshan (DD) paid Rs 4.25 crore (Rs 42.5 million) to government law officers for appearing in court cases during the last two years, recording a six-time increase in a year.
At a board meeting on Tuesday, the apex decision-making body for DD and All India Radio, Prasar Bharati, asked the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to probe the “payment of exorbitant fees”.
The board was informed that the amount was paid to government lawyers since 2007 till June this year, while between 2004 and 2007, DD’s annual legal expenditure was only around Rs 40 lakh (Rs 4 million).
The DD documents, in possession of Hindustan Times, said this violated the rule on prescribed fees for law officers hired by the organisation.
But CEO of Prasar Bharti B.S. Lalli said that the payments were as per rules.
The Prasar Bharati board prescribed fees for a government lawyer is Rs 4,500 per hearing, whereas the documents show that the lowest amount paid was Rs 1 lakh.
The board’s decision to probe the payment was made on a complaint by DD director-general Aruna Sharma, who said six law officers were paid Rs 1.10 crore in cases related to shutting out some private channels from the DD’s direct-to-home (DTH) service.
“So much money was spent to defend such a trivial issue,” said a DD official, not willing to be identified.
Prasar Bharati board chairman Arun Bhatnagar confirmed that the matter had been referred to the CVC for a probe. But Lalli said the probe decision was illegal since the agenda was only for the information of the board.
He said, “Three members of the board have also challenged the way the agenda item (on exorbitant fees) was introduced in the meeting.”
The documents presented before the board showed several former Supreme Court judges, including two former Chief Justices, as beneficiaries of the Rs 4.5 crore payment.
The law ministry, however, said autonomous organisations were free to hire top law officers, whose salary is paid by the government. “Every department has a fixed criterion and we don’t interfere on the fees issue,” said a senior law ministry official.