Amendments to Prasar Bharati Act, interim set-up likely (Lead)

December 23rd, 2010 - 12:24 am ICT by IANS  

Ambika Soni New Delhi, Dec 22 (IANS) A day after the suspension of Prasar Bharati CEO B.S. Lalli, the information and broadcasting ministry Wednesday was mulling amendments to the Prasar Bharati Act even as it started looking for a senior bureaucrat to manage the day-to-day affairs of the public broadcaster.”We do not want to tamper with the Act,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters here, but added that the amendments were being suggested for the better functioning of the public broadcaster.

She, however, said that through amendments, “we would like to make the act as healthy and as conducive to a public broadcaster as possible.” Soni was responding to a question on whether the government is thinking of amending the Prasar Bharati law in the aftermath of an elaborate process involved in taking action against the CEO.

The ministry Wednesday sent Lalli the suspension letter after it received the presidential communique approving the action. Soni added that the Group of Ministers on Prasar Bharati, headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, would be presented with the proposed amendments. The secretary in the information and broadcasting ministry will be given three to four months to look at some amendments and he would be formulating his report shortly, she said.

Official sources said that nobody has been appointed to replace Lalli as he has not been removed but only suspended pending inquiry.

The ministry is, however, exploring the possibility of entrusting a senior bureaucrat at the level of additional secretary for managing the Prasar Bharati after Lalli’s suspension over allegations of financial mismanagement, the sources added.

It will be a stop-gap arrangement till a new CEO is appointed after the completion of inquiry against Lalli. The other option is to let members of the Prasar Bharati Board run the day-to-day affairs of the broadcaster, sources said.

Ending two weeks of suspense, President Pratibha Patil Tuesday cleared the suspension of Lalli, pending completion of an inquiry into the allegations of financial irregularity against him.

Earlier, Patil had given her assent to a Supreme Court-led inquiry, the first step in the process of removal of a Prasar Bharati CEO.

Lalli, a 1971 batch Indian Administrative Service officer, was appointed CEO in December 2006. Subsequently, he was at the receiving end of some of his colleagues on the board, who accused him of financial impropriety.

Lalli was accused of favouring specific private companies in bidding processes, and of manipulating a decision that led to the inaugural Twenty20 Cricket World Cup not being shown on Doordarshan. The decision was a flagrant violation of laws that make it mandatory for private broadcasters to share with Prasar Bharati the feed of all sporting events of national importance.

Earlier, Lalli was indicted by the Central Vigilance Commission for breach of parliamentary privilege, showing favours to some broadcast companies, and committing financial mismanagement. Lalli has rejected charges of financial irregularity, saying “a lot of intrigue and mischief” has been going on against him and hoped that the probe would present the “true picture”.

A Prasar Bharati CEO is appointed by a panel which includes the prime minister, the Rajya Sabha chairman and the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha.

Prasar Bharati is the public broadcaster of the country and has All India Radio and Doordarshan as its components.

Under the Prasar Bharati Act, the CEO can be removed only after charges have been established by the Supreme Court through a probe, which has to be referred to the Supreme Court by the president of India.

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