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DD Silchar stops local programming: Former Prasar Bharati CEO says "It's sad." Onus now on local politicians, intellectuals

Yesterday morning, daily broadsheets broke the news that Doordarshan Kendra Silchar will stop local production and telecast the “State Network Channels” in the time reserved for the transmission of local programmes. It came as a shock for Barak Valley, an abode for over four million people mostly Bengali speaking.

For the generations that grew watching popular sitcom of its time, ‘Hashte Mana’ it was the end of an era. And for those, who started enjoying ‘Surer Ei Jhornatola’ that features local talents, it was another unexpected lockdown. But for a zone that has no satellite channel uplinking content, it is definitely another step into the periphery further away from the core. The news filled the air with the perfume of gloom and disappointment. One platform that was there to exhibit talent and garner some exposure was announced shut.

The news became action when in the afternoon the head of programme, Doordarshan Kendra Silchar informed that the Guwahati office has written to her. “Follow the order of the Directorate General and stop transmitting local programmes,” stated the letter, said the executive. “We thought there would be a way out and that is why we continued transmitting local programmes on July 22, but today, after the letter from Guwahati we had to shut. The entire office is sad and the onus is now on local politicians and cultural organisations. I hope that they will do enough to make the centre realise that DDK Silchar is a necessity and not a luxury. We have also drafted a letter which we will send to the competent authority today,” the head of programme added.

Silchar happened to be one of the 24 ATT/HPT locations where the directorate general ordered that “multiple entities will telecast one respective state/regional channel. “This letter was issued on June 29, 2020. The moment we saw DDK Silchar in the list we knew this is going to happen. However, what astonishes me is that no one in Silchar actually protested,” said a senior officer DD Kendra Guwahati.

He questioned the role of the officials in Silchar DDK, politicians and the cultural organisations. “The letter ordering ATTs to telecast State channels was issued by Directorate General on July 21. What did they do from June 29 to July 21? All this hue and cry should have happened earlier, now to revive programming in DDK Silchar is a herculean task,” the senior officer asserted.

The current Prasar Bharati CEO, Shashi S. Vempati was unavailable for a comment, but a former CEO, Jawhar Sircar (IAS), said while speaking with Barak Bulletin, “I am not aware why they decided to take such a step, but all I can say is that It’s very sad that they choose to do so.”

Former Prasar Bharati CEO, Jahwar Sircar with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh

Sircar served as CEO of Prasar Bharati ((Doordarshan and All India Radio) from February 2012 to October 2016. Before that, he was the Secretary of the Ministry of Culture and reported directly to the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.

Though Sircar worked closely with the current Information and Broadcasting Minister, Prakash Javadekar, he refused to speculate on the possible reason behind taking such a measure. He concluded, “Local programming was spread all across India for a purpose, has it been accomplished that these being withdrawn now…”

MP, Rajdeep Roy

Silchar MP Rajdeep Roy said he has had a conversation with, MIB, Prakash Javadekar. “I was waiting for a copy of the order. After getting it, I dialled the honourable minister Prakash Javadekar and had a conversation with him. I highlighted the importance of DDK Silchar and requested him to not demote it as a relay station. He assured me and said he would look into it,” said Roy.

However, revival has never been easy in Barak Valley and Hindustan Paper Corporation’s Mill in Panchgram is an example of that. A large employer, the mill has remained defunct for more than three years with employees still deprived of their wages. “This is a very unfortunate move and was first attempted in March this year,” asserted, Subimal Bhattacharjee, director of Jookto and former country manager of General Dynamics.

Subimal Bhattacharjee, Jookto

He added, “It is a sad development that two major central government avenues in Barak valley, the Hindustan Paper Mills factory at Panchgram and now Doordarshan Kendra Silchar are closing down when a BJP government is in power at the centre. Hope the two MPs of Barak valley will raise both issues and get them resolved. They need to explain to Delhi the significance of both these central government entities. Not only employment but also keeping the economy of the region intact is crucial as the priority to build the economy of the Barak valley hasn’t been to the optimum.”

All India Mahila Congress President and former Silchar MP turned the pages of history back to 1991. “It was during the tenure of late Ajit Kumar Panja (Union Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting) Doordarshan Kendra Silchar was launched,” she recalled.

Sushmita Dev, President of Mahila Congress 

Her father, Sontosh Mohan Dev was the union minister of Steel in 1991 when Ajit Kumar Panja travelled to Silchar and inaugurated the Doordarshan Kendra in the month of October (Check the lead image). She questioned if the BJP leaders of Barak Valley are communicating the local sentiments to the party’s think tank in Delhi. “We are a linguistic minority in Assam, this decision (to shut production in DDK) makes it clear that the BJP think tank in Delhi has no clue about the history of Barak Valley.”

She took a jibe at the BJP legislators, “The Bengali population of Barak Valley voted them to victory. They swept the elections. Just for the love of power, have they compromised with their own identity, roots? Despite having such a majority why aren’t they talking through to the power in Dispur and Delhi,” she questioned.

About 90 people are employed in Doordarshan Kendra Silchar and there is a cloud of uncertainty looming over their future. It is not only the employees, this is a disastrous move for the budding talent in Barak Valley believes Subimal Bhattacharjee. He said, “The young talents will definitely miss the opportunity to showcase their skills and the union government has to be made aware to look at the aspect of having the culture and traditions of Barak valley also shown to the outside world.”

Adding, “In today’s time, when rarely any of the northeast festivals that happen in Delhi project anything of the rich culture of Barak valley communities, DDK Silchar’s programmes were the only means to project these aspects to the national audience. Even when JOOKTO did the Barak festivals in Delhi, many came to see them and said they had seen programmes of DDK Silchar curated around Dhamail(a local dance form).”

Bhattacharjee, who regularly features as a commentator in pubcaster’s national news bulletins opined that DDK Silchar was set up with a very special purpose and “it was always living up to that expectations with its programmes both cultural and news.”

Apart from the content in Bengali, DDK Silchar also aired programmes in Manipuri, Hmar and other regional languages highlighting the diversity of the region. Will such shows ever get airtime? It remains to be seen.

For now, there is no more ‘lights, camera, action’ for the ‘TV Centre’ located in Tarapur. While the MP and former MP are raising questions now what remains as a mystery is why didn’t they react when the letter was first issued on June 29? Was it lack of awareness, or as the officer in Guwahati DDK alleges, just incompetency?

Edited by: Anirban Roy Choudhury 

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