Sunday, April 22, 2007

Radio Raghav - Illegal Yes, but Who is Culpable?

On March 27th 2006, a team from the I&B ministry accompanies by local district authorities swooped down at Mansoorpur and closed the three year old FM radio station run by Raghav Mahto. The community radio station which was spreading socially useful messages like Pulse Polio programme besides providing entertainment was shut down.

A grassroots innovator had nurtured a dream in spite of very severe lack of resources and not having much formal education, improving his radio station month by month, where it could be heard in a radius of up to sixteen kilometres. He could have been a role model for innovation and social entrepreneurship. However, our system chose to condemn him to illegality.

A reading of the Indian broadcasting law indeed renders the running of the radio station illegal. The moot question still remains, who is culpable?

Low cost FM broadcasting technology suited for community radio service that can be used over a small local area has been available for decades. However, how many FM stations do we have in India outside major cities? Absolutely none. It is a tragedy of unparalleled proportions that in spite of almost sixty years of democracy, elitism of the “Dilli Darbar” coupled with a totally misplaced sense of national good has prevented our masses from benefiting from such technology. Gandhiji had said that ‘The soul of India lives in its villages’. Our rulers continue to destroy that soul with an impunity that would have done the former colonial rulers proud.

Alas, we have several parallels of equally misplaced priorities and ill conceived policies. If we wind back to the eighties, older readers would recall how much of a hassle getting a telephone was. One could easily have to wait for up to five years to get one. Rulers of the day felt telephone was a luxury and hence made inadequate investment into it. Private parties were not allowed to invest in it. When Sam Pitroda tried to revolutionise the telecom sector, he had to face many challenges. Ludicrously, when he came up with the idea of public call offices (PCOs) so that hee could take the benefits of whatever infrastructure was there to the masses, responsible guardians of the society actually opposed it saying criminal and antinational activities may go up! Life was made so difficult for him that he had a heart attack and ultimately had to leave India a second time sometime around 1990.

Mercifully, the wireless revolution happened in the telecom sector and now India can boast of the cheapest telecom service anywhere in the world.

Television was kept in a similar vice like grip. A large state like Bihar was without a single full fledged television studio (or Doordarshan Kendra) during the heydays of Doordarshan. To be honest, the situation was somewhat better because of the farsighted I&B minister Vasant Sathe who had ushered in the low power transmitter (LPT) revolution during the Asian Games of 1982. The successor of Sathe, Ajit Panja thought it fit to vandalise the Upgraha Doordarhan Kendra, Muzaffarpur when he wanted a “Metro” studio at Calcutta. Equipment and staff were transferred out without any regard to the local sentiments.

The revolution happened when STAR (Satellite Television Asia Region) of Hong Kong started beaming four free to air channels to India via satellite. Soon we had indigenous programming by Zee TV due to the vision of Subhash Chandra and a new industry was born. Again, Indian cable TV is the cheapest in the world where we get more than 100 channels for the princely sum of Rs 200 per month. Sadly, till date, terrestrial television continues to be a preserve of the government machinery and therefore continues to languish.

Twice within twenty years, technological innovation came to the rescue of the masses when the elitist “Mantralayas” of Delhi tried to stifle progress. Is it too much to expect that the ministry concerned shows better sense this time around? Can we expect some changes in the laws which make community radio stations like Radio Raghav legal and commercially viable? We had learnt at school that Democracy is a government by the people, of the people, and equally crucially “for” the people.

With an economist as a PM and a good man as a CM, let us hope we would be third time lucky.

No comments: