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June 25, 1999


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Prasar Bharati to discuss report on DD telecasts

The controversial Arun Kumar Aggarwal report on Doordarshan's telecasts of sports events through the sports consortium is the main agenda for the Prasar Bharati board meeting tomorrow.

The discussion on this report had been put off at two previous meetings of the board.

At the meeting on May 14, it was not discussed, on the grounds that the members had just received copies of the report and needed time to study it. Later, at the meeting of June 11, the board failed to discuss the report, which had been sumitted on April 23, because R R Shah, additional secretary in the Information and Broadcasting ministry, had taken over as acting chief executive officer of Prasar Bharati on that day itself, and had not read the report.

A cursory look at the report shows that several questions about the crores of rupees involved in the Doordarshan telecasts will remain unanswered for some time to come.

For example, it is still not known why India paid as much as six million US dollars - for the telecast of just 11 matches - out of the 24 million US dollars which the England and Wales Cricket Board received from all over the world (with many countries telecasting all the 42 matches).

Also, there is still no definite explanation - despite half-hearted attempts by Doordarshan officials - about what happened to an amount of about Rs 7.5 crore lying in Doordarshan's Canara bank account for the World Cup/Sharjah events.

Prasar Bharati sources said that the former chief executive officer of Prasar Bharati, Dr O P Kkejriwal, was in favour of a vigilance inquiry into reports of alleged involvement of some Doordarshan officials with one member of the sports consortium. And the report prepared by Arun Kumar Aggarwal, a financial expert appointed by Dr Kejriwal for a limited period earlier this week, also shows that Doordarshan suffered losses running into several crores of rupees from telecasting of several sporting events either because of some collusion/misappropriation or because of lack of proper planning by its officials.

Doordarshan officials have not been able to explain why an account and a foreign letter of credit of about Rs 10 crore in connection with the Sharjah tournament and World Cups was opened in a bank other than the State Bank of India which handles Doordarshan accounts. This is stated to be particularly mysterious since the money was to be paid by a member of the sports consortium.

The Aggarwal report says that the account was opened on May 13 last year for the specific purpose of funding the losses running into crores on behalf of Stracon India, and it is not known whether it was authorised.

"This loss has neither been recovered and in all probability may not be recoverable. This is a case of blatant misuse and misappropriation of funds and shows the extent to which the officials were in collusion with Stracon," said the report.

The report adds that the complicity of the National Film Development Corporation officials in providing credits to the account, and the accountability of the finance and accounts department also needs to be examined. The amount diverted to fund the losses is more than Rs five crore.

The report also shows that Doordarshan did not earn a single rupee from nine events, including Wimbledon, World Cup soccer, French Open and mini World Cup cricket telecasts, which were beamed live last year, and had, infact, lost money.

Although it was flaunted that it was the first time that Doordarshan had bagged world rights of a major sports event, the Aggarwal report also says that Doordarshan had lost a sum of about Rs 20 crore in connection with the telecasts of the International Cricket Council mini-series held in Bangladesh last year. The broadcaster lost three to four million US dollars on account of under-realisation from the sale of international rights in view of higher bidding being available. It had also paid the withholding tax of Rs 5.11 crore and waived the opportunity cost which was Rs 14 lakh for weekdays and Rs 17 lakh for weekends.

In addition, a sum of Rs 30 lakh had been spent for advertisements in local papers. All this was in addition to expenditures on account of foreign trips, interest costs, and precious foreign exchange. The report shows there were dealings for the mini-series in the name of the consortium even before the consortium formally came into being in March 1998.


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