Prasar Bharati is the Public Service Broadcaster of India. It is a statutory autonomous body established in 1997 under the Prasar Bharati Act (1990). It directs and regulates the working of the national radio and television networks, All India Radio and Doordarshan respectively. These were earlier working as media units directly under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and since 1997 have become constituents of Prasar Bharati.
The history of India’s Public Service Broadcaster over the past 25 years is one of its systematic and deliberate wrecking by the successive governments.
These 25 years have seen the massive growth of the Electronic media in our country, both radio and TV. Today, this media reaches out to literally every village in our country. Communication satellites ensure that TV channels can be viewed all across the country. This could have been used to provide information, education and entertainment to our people. However, the Indian ruling class has not looked at Prasar Bharati from the point of view of being a service dedicated to addressing people’s needs. Far from doing so, successive governments, dictated by the interests of the biggest monopolies, have worked to ensure that increasingly the electronic media is controlled and dominated by the biggest capitalist monopolies. The capitalist monopolies not only see in the electronic media an avenue for profits, they use this control to manipulate the minds of the working class and toiling masses, and line them up behind the program of the ruling class. All this is being done in the name of “freedom of expression”, “ending government control over media”, “free competition” etc. What is hidden behind the huge number of private TV and Radio channels that have sprung up in this period, is the growing control of the media by a handful of monopolies. It is in the interests of these monopolies that Prasar Bharati is being wrecked.
There is massive unrest amongst the workforce of Prasar Bharati at all levels. The official website of Prasar Bharati clearly suggests that its employees are deeply dissatisfied with their working conditions. They have been repeatedly and frequently asking the Chairperson, CEO, Prasar Bharati Board Members and Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and other senior officers, questions related to their promotion, recruitment policies and procedures, engagement of contract labour, etc. The Prasar Bharati Secretariat, inundated with questions and protests, has been forced to admit to the wrecking of Prasar Bharati by successive governments. Certain facts presented by the Prasar Bharati Secretariat itself, on its official website, serve to throw some light on the terrible conditions of the workers in this most important state sector of modern-day communication.
Acute shortage of workers and lack of new recruitment
The role of Prasar Bharati is to supervise 2 large Directorates (AIR and Doordarshan), some Rs. 3500 crores of annual finance and approximately 33000 permanent employees, as well as thousands of casual and other employees in the two Directorates. The Prasar Bharati Secretariat services the Prasar Bharati Board and interfaces with the Ministry and is, therefore, responsible for formulation of operational policies for Board / Government approval, and also their implementation and monitoring after approval. However, there are only 4 officers in the Prasar Bharati Secretariat -- Executive Member (Chief Executive Officer), Member (Finance), Member (Personnel) and Additional Director General (B&A). No new positions have been created since its inception for 18 years. The work of the Secretariat is being managed by borrowing staff from the Directorates of AIR and Doordarshan, leading to shortage of staff there. According to its own admission, the Prasar Bharati Secretariat requested the ministry in October 2013 to have at least 180 permanent employees working for the Secretariat, in order to carry out its mandate! The fact that successive central governments have not even enabled the Secretariat of Prasar Bharati to carry out its functions, is a clear admission that the aim of setting up Prasar Bharati as an “autonomous” institution in 1997 was to wreck India’s public service provider, not to modernise it.
Further, according to the admission of the Prasar Bharati Secretariat, at the time of setting up of Prasar Bharati in 1997, there were 48,000 employees working in the two Directorates of AIR and Doordarshan. Since then, the number of projects/facilities viz., AIR stations, Doordarshan Kendras, Programme Generating Facilities and Transmitters etc. has almost doubled. For the new facilities created, either no staff has been sanctioned, or only partial staff strength has been sanctioned in some cases.
The Prasar Bharati Secretariat estimates that even according to most stringent norms, at least 60,000 workers would be required, for the numerous projects, facilities and services provided by Prasar Bharati today. However, because of retirements, and because there has been no fresh recruitment in Prasar Bharati for the past 18 years, the existing strength is only 32,000. Prasar Bharati accepts that there is acute employee shortage in some crucial and newer areas such as FM channels, DTH, social media and marketing, whose full potential remains unutilised. In the Programme cadre, the core group for formulation and implementation of programmes related activities at the Directorate level and actual running of the operations at the AIR stations/ Doordarshan Kendras level, there are only 9 employees against sanctioned strength of 30 at the senior level and only 4 against 160 at the junior level, which works out to be even less than one junior level officer per major station/kendra. As a result, most of the stations and kendras outside the metros are headed by extremely junior staff with little experience.
The reason for no recruitment of fresh employees in Prasar Bharati is that before its formation, UPSC was carrying out the task of recruitment for AIR and DD, but after the formation of PB as an autonomous body in 1997, UPSC discontinued the process. The status of the employees working in PB was placed under the consideration of a Group of Ministers and no new recruitment board, as envisaged in the PB Act 1990, has yet been set up. Recruitment rules and regulations have not been finalised.
Promotions for various posts have not taken place for the last 20-25 years, again because the UPSC declared it was not in its mandate. However, after intervention of Courts, the Commission has re-started the process of promotions on a case by case basis. There are several cases pending in the courts related to seniority and other matters.
In many AIR stations/DD kendras, due to shortage of regular employees, the work is being done by casual artists/employees, hired from time to time, on contract. The Prasar Bharati Secretariat admits that these workers have been deliberately kept on contract, with accompanying break in services, because there was no policy for hiring regular workers. Many consultants/associates/coordinators and a few advisors have also been hired on contract. Apart from day-to-day functions, they provide expert advice on issues of management, finance, HR, staff training, etc. Several retired secretary level government employees have been engaged on contract for technical, programme, administrative and marketing functions. The engagement of retired officers is highly beneficial for Prasar Bharati as it is getting the benefit of their rich and vast experience and expertise at half the cost. The expenditure on all such Casuals, Consultants, Advisors and Special Assignees is met from out of Prasar Bharati’s Revenue.
The above facts clearly show that India’s public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati, is being deliberately wrecked by successive governments. Thousands of casual workers in this public sector institution, who joined at a young age fired with the idea of contributing to the building of the institution, are facing a bleak future. They are paid a pittance, have no social security, and are unsure of whether they would have work the next day. (See box). On the other hand, thousands of permanent workers have seen their careers reaching a blind end, with no promotions, forced to work on ad hoc basis. As said before, wrecking of Prasar Bharati has been accompanied by the increasing control of the electronic media by the biggest monopolies. Furthermore, as in the case of other public sector enterprises and services, in this case too, the policy of successive governments has been to deliberately create conditions for its destruction, and then justify handing it over to private monopolies for a song, which will then run it to rake in enormous profits and milk the public. This is what has been done in the case of Modern Foods, in the case of electricity distribution and so on, is being done in the case of Air India, etc.
The Communist Ghadar Party of India condemns the neglect and sabotage of Prasar Bharati and the savage exploitation of its workers and the denial of their rights. The struggle of Prasar Bharati workers is entirely just.