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Government Procedure is the biggest hurdle in the growth of Community Radio in India

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UNESCO believes that Community Radio has the potential to democratize communication & broadcasting. But despite the potential, Government procedure & control remains the biggest bottleneck for the growth of Community Radio in India. A mere 11% of the applications for Community Radio were accepted since 2012 by the Government.

Community Radio hit the headlines recently after the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting reportedly asked all Community Radio Stations (CRS) to send their daily programming schedule to Delhi. It caused much uproar and hence was withdrawn immediately.  It is astonishing to note that India has only 180 operational CRS as on 1st May, 2015 despite its large population.

What is Community Radio & Why?

UNESCO sees community radio as a medium that gives voice to the voiceless; that serves as the mouthpiece of the marginalized and is at the heart of communication and democratic processes within societies. With community radio, citizens have the means to make their views known on decisions that concern them. The notions of transparency and good governance take on new dimensions with Community Radio and democracy is strengthened.

Community Radio catalyses the development efforts of rural folk and the underprivileged segments of urban societies, given its exceptional ability to share timely and relevant information on developmental issues, opportunities, experiences, life skills and public interests.

But how much of UNESCO’s vision of the community radio actually translated into reality on the ground in the Indian context? The official data paints a dismal picture of the situation on ground. UNESCO in 2007 estimated that India would have 4000 CRS with the new policy. Not even 5% of that target is achieved even after 8 years.

The history of CRS in India

Community Radios in India were started after the first policy for Community Radios was approved in the year 2002. This policy allowed only Educational Institutions to set up Community Radios. This policy was broad-based in 2006 when grassroots organizations like NGOs and other Not-for-Profit organizations were also allowed to set up Community Radios in India. The lack of penetration of the CRS can be attributed to stringent guidelines for setting up, heavy initial investment & a cumbersome process. In fact, the entire process of granting licenses runs contrary to the spirit of the CRS, where broadcasting would be liberated from the clutches of regulation and centralized control.

Who can apply for setting up a CRS?

  1. An NGO which includes civil society and voluntary organizations, state agriculture universities, educational institutions, ICAR institutions, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, Registered Societies and Autonomous bodies and public trusts registered under societies act having at least 3 years of service.
  2. The CRS should be designed to serve a specific well-defined local community.
  3. It should have an ownership and management structure that is reflective of the community that the CRS seeks to serve.
  4. Programmes for broadcast should be relevant to the educational, developmental, social and cultural needs of the community.
  5. It must be a Legal Entity i.e. it should be registered (under the registration of Societies Act or any other such act relevant to the purpose).

Who cannot apply for CRS?

  1. Individuals;
  2. Political Parties and their affiliate organizations
  3. Organizations operating with a motive to earn profit
  4. Organizations expressly banned by the Union and State Governments.

CRS applications since 2012

Since January 2012, Government has received 689 applications for setting up of CRS in the country. Of these 41.3% applications were either returned or rejected, 38.17% of the applications were referred back to applicants, 9.4% were referred to the concerned ministries and letter of intent (LOI) was issued for only 11% of those applications.

Community radio in India - Status of CRS applications since January 2012

No time frame is prescribed for pending applications, as various inter-ministerial clearances are required to grant permissions to set up community radio stations. Permission to set up CRS is granted only when mandatory clearances from Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defence and Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing of Ministry of Communications & Information Technology are obtained. Clearances should also be obtained from Ministry of Human Resource Development in case of Educational Institutions and Ministry of Agriculture in case of State Agriculture Institutions, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutions and Krishi Vigyan Kendras. All these clearances are mandatory. It is therefore not surprising that there are just 180 operational CRS in the country.

The number of operational Community Radio Stations (CRS) in India at present is rather disappointing keeping in view its size and population. Another reason for the slow growth could be the lack of resources with Non-Government Organizations to meet the capital cost of setting up CRS and hand holding. Their capacity to mobilize resources is extremely limited. It is perhaps time to think of a mechanism to channelize financial assistance to genuine grass roots organizations to enable them set up CRS and relaxation of the long list of mandatory clearances.

The Operational CRS

Tamil Nadu has a maximum 27 CRS followed by UP with 21, Maharashtra at 17 and MP at 14. Among these, the Educational institutions operate 68 CRS,  NGOs operate 98, Krishi Vigyan Kendra and  State Agriculture University are operating 7 CRS.

What is the Government Saying?

As per the ministry of information and broadcasting, awareness workshops are being organized to sensitize people about the policy and create awareness amongst aspiring applicants about issues relating to setting up, operation & maintenance of Community Radios. A new Plan Scheme “Supporting Community Radio Movement in India” has also been introduced to provide financial support to new as well as existing CR Stations for setting up studios, purchase of equipment, building capacity, and upgrading technology etc. The Government says that a total of at least 650 grants are likely to be made over the 12th Plan Period (2012-2017).

But despite all these measures, Government procedure and regulation remains the biggest bottle neck for the growth of Community Radio. Unless that is corrected, it is difficult to see any change in the numbers.

Source:

  • Unstarred question No 199, answered on 9th July,2014 in the Lok Sabha, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting
  • Ministry of Information & Broadcasting

Featured Image: Community Radio Facilitation Center, Ministry of I&B, Govt of India

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