Prasar Bharati chairman resigns


New Delhi : Prasar Bharati Chairman Arun Bhatnagar has resigned, bringing to an end his brief tenure that was marked by a standoff with the public broadcaster’s CEO B.S. Lalli and reports of the board becoming a hive of intrigue and politicking.

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Bhatnagar had first tendered his resignation March 7, but the government, preoccupied with elections, had deferred a decision on it. Now he has sent his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In a public interest litigation case in the Delhi High Court relating to charges of mismanagement and irregularities at Prasar Bharati, Bhatnagar’s counsel Tuesday informed the high court that his client had resigned and requested the court to strike down his name as a co-respondent.

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Bhatnagar, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who was appointed chairman for a three-year tenure in May last year, said that in recent months “it has become increasingly difficult for me to address the proper functioning of the Board”.

His term was to expire on April 30, 2011.

Lalli has denied allegations of financial irregularities many a time, saying they were baseless and were aimed at smearing his reputation. He says he plans to send a counter-affidavit to the high court Wednesday. The case is expected to come up for hearing before the high court Thursday.

“I have been compelled to quit because of certain circumstances. There were financial irregularities. It was impossible to function as chairman of the board,” Bhatnagar told IANS.

Despite Bhatnagar’s efforts to portray himself as a victim, no tears are being shed over his resignation. On the contrary, there is a sense of relief that the board, which was derailed from its normal functioning by the machinations of Bhatnagar and his backers in the board, will now function better and focus on issues for which it was created 12 years ago.

The National Federation of Akashvani and Doordarshan Employees (NFADE), an umbrella organisation of 21 unions representing 38,000 workers, have rallied behind Lalli and lauded his initiative in instilling a culture of discipline and fairness in the organisation.

In a letter written to Lalli three days ago, copies of which were sent to Manmohan Singh and then information and broadcasting minister Anand Sharma, they have decried the infiltration of “undesirable elements indulging in a smear campaign,” denting the image of the organisation.

“We also notice with regret that due to your pre-occupation with these problems, the level of the discipline in the organisation has started suffering,” they wrote.

“One reason for this is the perception that some people at highest level within the organisation have been either indulging or encouraging others, including the media and advocates, to file PIL, which ultimately tarnish the image of this august organisation which is our bread and butter,” they wrote.

According to sources, Bhatnagar tried his best to scuttle what he mistakenly called an extension of term to Lalli whereas the Prasar Bharati Amendment (Act) had come into effect Feb 7, 2008, raising the retirement age of the CEO from 62 to 65. This meant Lalli, who was appointed CEO in December 2006, has a secure five-year term till 2011.

The split in the 10-member board started over minutes of a board meeting held Jan 21. Deviating from practice, Bhatnagar circulated the draft of the minutes, which are normally prepared by the secretary to the board. Lalli took strong exception to the draft minutes, saying they were “inaccurate, slanted and having extraneous material”.

Over the next few weeks, some members of the board levelled various allegations of impropriety and financial irregularities against the CEO. The matter reached Delhi High Court through the PIL.

In an affidavit before the Court, Bhatnagar sought an independent, comprehensive and time-bound inquiry into the state of affairs in the public broadcaster.