President clears inquiry against Prasar Bharati CEO

President clears inquiry against Prasar Bharati CEO

New Delhi: President Pratibha Patil gave her consent to a Supreme Court investigation of Prasar Bharati chief executive officer (CEO) B.S. Lalli, who has been accused of wrongdoing involving the finances of the state-run broadcaster by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

Confirming the move to refer Lalli’s case to President Patil, a top government official said: “The President has given consent to prosecute the Prasar Bharati CEO." The website of the state-owned All India Radio also carried the news.

Lalli expressed the hope that the inquiry would be completed quickly so that the “true picture" would become known to the public, PTI reported, citing the official.

“At long last, due focus would be given to facts rather than conjectures, half-truths and plain lies," he was cited as saying. Lalli was indicted by CVC in a 23-page report after the Supreme Court directed the agency to investigate the mismanagement of funds at Prasar Bharati.

A Prasar Bharati member, who did not want to be named, said, “The court is likely to form a committee and, if found guilty, the Supreme Court can suspend Lalli."

Attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati had asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 29 August to ensure that “Lalli’s version" be considered by the information and broadcasting ministry before his case was referred to the President, according to a document reviewed by Mint.

Prior to that, additional solicitor general Mohan Parasaran had on 2 August asked the ministry of information and broadcasting to refer Lalli’s case to the President and subsequently for a Supreme Court inquiry to initiate his removal as there was enough prima facie evidence in the 16 July CVC report.

Vahanvati told Mint on Thursday that he had only argued that the CEO should be given a chance to explain himself before the case was turned into a presidential reference.

He said this was in accordance with the law and that he “had nothing to do with the merits against Lalli" and “never looked into the facts of the CVC report".

In his opinion to the Prime Minister, the attorney general said, “I have carefully gone through all the papers, including the note prepared by the Cabinet Secretariat dated 11 August 2010 and the enclosure thereto, the report of the CVC, the comments of the ministry of information and broadcasting and the opinion of the learned ASG (Parasaran)."

As a government law officer, Vahanvati was among the lawyers engaged by Prasar Bharati while Lalli was in charge.

On Thursday, the attorney general denied that there was any conflict of interest, asking:“How am I benefited?"

Prasar Bharati was formed in 1997 as a public service broadcaster. This is the first time that its chief executive faces the prospect of being removed from the post and “is a test case of sorts", said another member of Prasar Bharati who didn’t want to be named.

According to the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990, the chief executive can be removed only by the Supreme Court, after a “reference" is made to it by the President.

Another Prasar Bharti executive, who refused to be identified, said Lalli’s exit was imminent as his powers have already been curtailed. In November, the Supreme Court had directed a three-member committee, including Prasar Bharati member, finance and personnel, to jointly handle day-to-day decisions.

Lalli became chief executive of Prasar Bharati in 2006. He’s been accused of financial irregularities previously and, more recently, was alleged to have favoured the UK-based broadcasting company SIS Live for the Commonwealth Games.

Lalli was indicted by CVC for allowing private broadcasters Nimbus and ESPN to revise their advertising bids unfairly for the T-20 Cricket World Cup in 2007.

CVC also found that Lalli delayed key decisions to allow sharing of the T-20 matches with Doordarshan as stipulated by the Mandatory Sharing Act, 2007. The CVC also found there were administrative discrepancies in Lalli engaging senior private advocates at ad hoc rates without the approval of the Prasar Bharati board. A vigilance inquiry found increases in payments made to legal entities between 2006 and 2009.

These payments have been questioned by the CVC report because the selection of lawyers and their payments were made by Lalli without the approval of the Prasar Bharati board.