Thursday, November 25, 1999
SECTION: National

Retiring of Romila Thapar questioned

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, NOV. 24. The legality of the manner in which Prof. Romila Thapar and Mr. Rajendra Yadav were dropped from the Prasar Bharati Board was questioned today by Mr. Jaipal Reddy, MP, during whose tenure as the Information and Broadcasting Minister the Board was set up. He urged "all democratic liberals" to protest the Government's decision and said he would mobilise political opinion on the issue.

He would also raise it in Parliament when it meets for the winter session next week. "We will fight it out in Parliament," he said.

Mr. Reddy pointed out that no "objective" criterion seemed to have been adopted while retiring Prof. Thapar and Mr. Yadav and what had been done was clearly "arbitrary" and a part of an "ideological witch-hunt". The Government's action was not only "outrageously improper but clearly illegal," he charged.

Commenting on the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Arun Jaitley's statement that the decision was taken after an assessment by an internal committee of experts, he wanted to know what was the "locus standi" of the committee, and who were its members. "How can any expert or group of experts sit on judgement on the suitability of a person of Prof. Romila Thapar's eminence," he asked. She was an internationally acknowledged scholar, who had been honoured by the British Royal Academy for her contribution to social sciences.

Mr. Reddy, known as the "architect" of Prasar Bharati, was livid with the Vajpayee Government saying that it had consistently tried to "scuttle" Prasar Bharati starting with the removal of its first Chief Executive, Mr. S.S. Gill. There were seven vacancies on the Board but nothing had been done to fill them, and the Government was "not cooperating" with the selection committee.

With the "retirement" of Prof. Thapar and Mr. Yadav the 15- member Board had been reduced to three. The Prasar Bharati had no chairman, no full-time chief executive, no Director- General for either Doordarshan or AIR and no member (personnel) and member (finance). By keeping key posts vacant, the Government was trying to "emasculate" Prasar Bharati and then portray it as a failure.

Mr. Reddy dwelt at length on Prasar Bharati's background and the Vajpayee Government's attempt to "scuttle" at every stage. He denied that the Board, set up during his tenure, was "packed" with Leftists, as alleged by the BJP. The Board, he said, consisted of some of the brightest men and women in their respective areas of expertise and if some happened to have Left- wing views it was incidental.

Mr. Reddy charged that the BJP wanted to fill the Board with its own men as a part of its campaign to "saffronise" key institutions.

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