Tuesday, January 6, 2015

From the desk of Prasar Bharti Chairman


Prasar Bharti Chairman A. Suryaprakash has openly advocated the need to bring the Anti-Conversion Law at the earliest and has criticised the Congress party for opposing such a law. He has written an edit page article in a Hindi daily 'Nai Dunia' on 3 January to give his arguments in favour of law against conversion. The article introduces the author as the Chairman of Prasar Bharti with his photograph.

Prasar Bharti is an statutory autonomous body established by an act which came into existence on 23 November 1997. It is the public service broadcaster of the country. Prasar Bharti act says that the Chairman and the other Members, except the ex-officio Members, the Nominated Member and the elected Members shall be appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of  the Chairman of the Council of States, who shall be the Chairman of the Committee; the Chairman of the Press Council of India established under section 4 of the Press Council Act, 1978; and one nominee of the President of India.

Chairman of Prasar Bhart Board is a public servant. The act says, " The chairman and every other Member, every officer or other employee of the Corporation and every member of a Committee thereof, the President and every member of the Broadcasting Council or every member of a Regional Council or a Recruitment Board shall be deemed to be a public servant within the meaning of section 21 of the Indian Penal Code."

So, I have a question. Can the Chairman of an autonomous body governed by the act, rules and regulations framed by the Government of India lobby against or in favour of any political issue by propagating his views through media? Is a public servant governed by the conduct rules set by the government allowed to become a part of running political propaganda? Does Suryaprakash's act attract an disciplinary action against him?

Based on the recommendations of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption headed by late Shri K. Santhanam, the Conduct Rules for Government servants were revised with a view to maintaining integrity in public Services and the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 were notified laying down the Code of Conduct for Central Government employees. A bilingual edition of the Brochure on Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 was published in 1986 and thereafter no further edition has been brought out. In the meantime several provisions of the rules have been amended and a number of clarifications have been issued. Therefore an updated brochure was published in May 2000 by the Department of Personnel and Training with DOPT OM No. 28027/9/99-Estt. (A) dated 1st May, 2000.

The notification S.O. 4177 declares, "in exercise of the powers conferred by the proviso to article 309 and clause (5) of article 148 of the Constitution the President hereby makes the following rules...". And the Rule 8 mentions about the connection of public servants with press or other media. Sub rule 3 of this rule says, "A Government servant publishing a book or participating in a public media shall at all times make it clear that the views expressed by him are his own and not that of Government."

Rule 9 of the notification deals with the criticism of the Government by a public servant and says, "No Government servant shall, in any radio broadcast, telecast through any electronic media or in any document published in his own name or anonymously, pseudonymously or in the name of any other person or in any communication to the press or in any public utterance, make any statement of fact or opinion (i) which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the Central Government or a State Government (ii) which is capable of embarrassing the relations between the Central Government and the Government of any State." The rule clarifies that "nothing in this rule shall apply to any statements made or views expressed by a Government servant in his official capacity or in the due performance of the duties assigned to him".

I have no idea if lobbying for Anti-Conversion Law becomes a part of the duty of a public servant, which Suryaprakash is in his capacity as the Chairman of Prasar Bharti Board. He has proudly preferred his designation at the end of his article and it clearly shows that he has written the article in his official capacity. First of all, Suryaprakash has no business to indulge in a business of propaganda while holding a position of repute such as the chief of nation's public broadcaster and even if freedom of expression gives him any space to express his own views on a highly sensitive political issue he must have kept in mind the sub rule 3 of rule 8 says that while participating in a public media a public servant shall at all times make it clear that the views expressed by him are his own.

Hundreds of autonomous bodies are functioning throughout the country under different ministries of the Union Government. For instance, some of them are Bureau of India Standards, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, National Museum, National School of Drama, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Haz Committee, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Indian Council for World Affairs, All India Institute of medical Sciences, National Human Rights Commission, Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, National Urdu University, Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, National Bal Bhavan, National Book Trust, Press Council of India, Provident Fund Organisation, Employees State Insurance Corporation, National Judicial Academy, Central Waqf Council, Dargah Khwaza Saheb Ajmer, National Commission for Backward Classes, National Commission for Women, Central Pollution Control Board, Film and Television Institute, Central Board of Film Certification, Indian Institute of Mass Communications and National Remote Sensing Agency. All the public sector banks and other public sector undertakings also enjoy the status of autonomy for that matter.

The question is whether the Chairmen of all such 'autonomous bodies', serving as public servants also have the rights of publication of their signed articles in newspapers and magazines in their 'official capacity' to propagate a line of particular thought on sensitive political and religious issues? If not, the Government needs to take a view on the 'thought provoking article' written by the Chairman of Prasar Bharti. Isn't it?
Author is editor and CEO of News Views India.

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