West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today announced that the state government would acquire two of the closed television channels — Tara News and Tara Muzik — owned by the Sudipta Sen-promoted Saradha Group that went bust recently, leaving hundreds of employees of the channels jobless.
“We have decided to acquire Tara Muzik and Tara News on humanitarian grounds,” Banerjee said. The government will also pay an ex gratia of Rs 16,000 to each of the 168 employees of the two channels in lie of May salary.
Banerjee would give Rs 26 lakh from the sale proceeds of her paintings to the two channels. However, she said, the government would not take the liability of the channels, which amounted to Rs 6 crore.
The two Bengali channels were bought by Saradha Group in early 2011. The management served closure notices on April 15 as Saradha went bust. The channels, however, remained on air even after April 15 as employees refused to accept the closure notice.
Sources said senior Trinamool Congress member of Parliament Mukul Roy had earlier promised employees government assistance.
Incidentally, Banerjee had said recently it was the “teary eyes” of Tara Muzik employees that made her aware about the financial difficulties of the Saradha-owned channels. She was approached by the employees on Bengali New Year (April 15). “After seeing this, I asked Mukul to enquire about the matter. Subsequently, I came to know about Saradha going bust,” Banerjee recently said at a public rally.
However, the Bengal government's plan may face many hurdles. Firstly, the state needs to secure the Centre's nod for such acqusitions. There were similar instances earlier. One was where Punjab government had approached the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to get into broadcasting business. But the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last year recommended to the ministry that government bodies should not be allowed to enter into the business of broadcasting or distribution of TV channels.
The Left Front in West Bengal has asked if the state can acquire the Saradha-owned channels when investigations were on and the matter was in court. “I welcome the chief minister's gesture. But I am not sure whether it is legally possible to acquire two channels,” Suryakanta Mishra of the CPI(M) said. “I am not sure whether public money can be used this way. Also there are so many other media outfits of Saradha.”
Among the other major media outfits are Channel 10, also a Bengali news channel, which is still on air. Two of its news publications — Azad Hind (Urdu) and Kalam (Bengali) — are still being published. Sources said in all these organisations, a section of the employees are running the show after getting support from TMC. Saradha-owned English daily Bengal Post and Bengali newspaper Sakalbela have closed down. The TMC government is apparently looking for suitable investors to take over all the media outfits.