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Falling Through The Gaps

The fact is that in DD if you don’t have or sport political connections, you can be easily sidelined. My experience, loyalty, commitment, all those years of hard work I had put in was just wiped out.

Nirupama Sekhri
Publish Date: Feb 8 2016 5:00PM | Updated Date: Feb 8 2016 5:55PM

Falling Through The Gapsfile : photo

While recruitment and promotion policies in Prasar Bharati are still in the process of being formed, here are two stories of how the present nepotism and lack of systems has affected employees adversely. Harikesh Bahadur Singh Gautum and Nidhi Mehra spoke to Policy Pulse about their experiences, both underlining the fact that without political connections PB is a wild world

 

Harikesh Bahadur Singh Gautum works as an assignment coordinator with Doordarshan (DD). He is also fighting a case against the organisation for their whimsical recruitment policy 

 

I completed my university degree from Banaras Hindu University and applied to DD in 2004 for the post of a trainee-journalist. After an interview I was inducted. The following year, in 2005, I was made assignment coordinator. Just like for other contractual employees, I too got salary hikes in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 of 20-30 percent based on our performance.

 

At the time, I didn’t even know who evaluated us, I used to work and that was it. It was only later when things started to go wrong that I found out that it was the Information Services Officers who used to evaluate us. 

 

In 2009 I responded to a Prasar Bharati advertisement calling for applications for the post of anchor-cum-correspondents. I cleared the written test, getting the second-highest marks, I cleared the audition, but for the interview I was given 10 percent. Among the people who were appointed for the post, two candidates hadn’t even given the written exam!  

 

This induction stung me especially sharply because the decision-makers told me that it was a fair decision. They could’ve said their hands were tied because they had to fit in people they had been told to, but no - that dishonesty and callousness really pricked me and I decided to challenge that decision. 

 

Through RTI’s I collected information on that induction process and presented my case to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) in May 2009. In Sept 2010 CAT agreed with my findings and ruled that there were discrepancies in the recruitment process and quashed that decision taken by PB. 

 

However, Prasar Bharati, Doordarshan and the affected parties took a stay order from the High Court on this decision pleading that for contractual employees CAT can’t make a ruling, but the High Court said that CAT should decide, and the case is still going on, the people employed at the time continue to be on PB’s payroll. 

 

There is a huge problem in Prasar Bharati’s recruitment process. For years they have been saying they will change it, but it hasn’t been done. And this is with the complicity of the highest PB posts because they will lose the power of making appointments, giving promotions and demotions as they like. 

 

In other organisations, why do people get designations? To perform certain jobs, to get a certain salary. But that’s not how it works in PB. “Yahan koi niyam kanoon hi nahin hain,” (there are no rules and regulations here). Here designations are not relevant – if you are a favourite of information service officers – you can do what you want. The rules are made by the PB and flouted by them only with impunity. 

 

Family and friends are fitted in, chamchagiri (flattery) is rewarded. Rewards and punishments are whimsical – for the same mistake, one employee can be harshly punished while another faces no consequences whatsoever.

 

And if you have a problem “kahin sunvayi nahin hoti” (no one listens to your grievances). I am not the only one, others too have gone to court – about 100 cases are pending. 

 

The environment for me in DD since 2009 has not been pleasant, it has not been kind. I went for a one-month film appreciation course to FTII that had been attended previously by two other employees who had received their salary for the duration of the course. My salary for that month was not released. 

 

My salary hike since then has been at the minimum, and none at all in 2015, based on the consistent ‘poor’ I have been given for my performance, which used to be ‘very good’ before I put the case on the organisation. I request for travel assignments, which with my experience and years of work are legitimate, but they are not given to me. 

   

If by chance I come across a senior employee who can help me and I buttonhole them and ask for support, they ask in return whose political reference I have. I say I am from the Prime Minister’s constituency, but of course that doesn’t count!  

 

Friends ask me why I’m persisting with the case. I tell them how can I as a journalist highlight or present programmes on other people’s rights if I can’t fight for my own!

 

Nidhi Mehra was the infamous DD anchor who read Chinese Premier XI, sorry Xi Jinping’s name as eleven and was unceremoniously dumped for that error

 

I had been reading news bulletins on the All India Radio (AIR) and in 2004 I was recruited as a voice over artiste with DD. In 2007 an audition approved me for reading Hindi news bulletins. I was employed on a casual basis. In 2009 a recruitment process through BASIL gave the opportunity for casual anchors to be employed as annual contractual employees, I didn’t, I had a full-time teaching job, and the casual basis suited me.

 

I loved working there. It was tough but great fun. I juggled teaching and DD bulletin reading. Things were going fine till one fateful morning – on 16th Sept 2014 – I made a mistake – the teleprompter read XI for Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, which I read as eleven realising immediately I had made a mistake.

 

However, this mistake happened in the morning, and the same bulletin was run in the evening. It was picked up by the media and there was a furore. I was persuaded not to talk to the media by my senior staff. I agreed because they said they were behind me and just needed the storm to blow over. In any case this job is teamwork, if we do well it’s because of the team, similarly an error too has people involved. So I kept a low profile and didn’t respond to the media who called and asked for my side of the story.

 

Unfortunately, to my shock, this loyalty was not reciprocated. No-one else was implicated and I was not called back. I realised that I had been made a scapegoat.

 

And that is what stings. The fact is that in DD if you don’t have or sport political connections, you can be easily sidelined. My experience, loyalty, commitment, all those years of hard work I had put in was just wiped out. Another anchor who had made the same mistake continues to work there. Others who made bigger blunders continue to thrive there.

 

No-one else on duty that night was put on the dock.  I was not recalled because it was convenient to relieve me as the only person responsible. I accept I made a mistake but then rules should apply equally to everyone, and that’s why I feel so cheated about. I feel I should’ve spoken to the media at that time itself. 

  

In panic, our Government officials tend to kneejerk reactions, and that’s what happened then. They blamed employees hired on a casual basis, so the weather reporting and voiceover departments that hired most of casual employees were closed down.

 

This was ironic because many of us hired on a casual basis were actually some of the most dedicated. We worked during holidays when much of the contractual staff would be on holiday. We have worked when the teleprompters stopped working, talking extempore. We worked extra shifts without being paid just because our senior staff were in a spot and needed help.

 

It was like a close-knit family but I realised how hollow it was when you get caught on the wrong side of the fence, then no one comes forward to help. There is an overwhelming sense of fear and insecurity in the organisation and the only thing that helps is political clout. I do not want to go back to news reading but I do want that my name is cleared.