Jharkhand’s voices crushed

Naxalite fear prevents community radio stations

By Chhandosree
Published: Monday 31 January 2011

imageJAINATULLAH Hussain of Kisko block in Lohardaga district is an unhappy man. He had been running a radio show for adolescents who have health-related misconceptions. The programme was broadcast through Prasar Bharti and the airtime was purchased by Manthan Yuva Sansthan, a non-profit he had been working with.

Realising the need for more programmes for adolescents, he thought of setting up his own community radio station. He applied for a Wireless Operating Licence and allotment of frequency to the Information and Broadcast (I&B) ministry. His application was rejected. Reason: allowing community radio stations would give thrust to Naxalite activities.

Hussain’s is not the sole case. An RTI application filed on August 12, 2010, revealed that around 25 applications from Jharkhand were sent to the ministry in 2008 for setting up community radio stations in rural and sub-urban areas, mostly by development organisations. All were rejected at the final stage.

The I&B ministry had approved 10 applications. The Defence Ministry too approved them on condition that “the organisations abide by the broadcast protocols and do not air any programme that goes against the national interest or contains anything amounting to contempt of court”.

The final approval comes from an inter-ministerial committee (IMC), which has representatives from I&B ministry, home affairs, rural development and defence ministries, Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing, Prasar Bharati and Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology. On June 27, 2008, all except the home ministry representative, favoured setting up the radio stations in Jharkhand.

“The home ministry representative produced an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report that said Naxalite activity in Jharkhand was at its peak and controlling or combating Naxalism in the state had gone beyond control. Under such circumstances permission for community radio stations might intensify their movement. Thus, all the 10 applications were rejected,” an I&B ministry official said.

There are more than 125 community radio stations in the country and most of them are located in Naxaliteaffected states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. Jharkhand has none.

State Home Secretary J B Tubid said, “We are unaware of this matter. The IB is under direct control of the Union Home Ministry. Had it come to us, we would have discussed it with the higher authorities, taken view of other Naxalite-affected states, shared their experiences and taken a decision only after assuring the pros and cons.” Naxalism cannot be a ground to take away people’s fundamental rights, said Rajiv Kumar, a senior legal practitioner at the Jharkhand High Court.

“Naxalism evolved from the failures of the governments. I am not pointing out any political party as such. The home department itself believes that Naxalism cannot be controlled without social inclusion, people’s participation and initiation of development activities. Moreover, community radio has been considered an important medium for rural development,” he added.

Shashi Bhusan Pathak, a human rights activist, said, “Naxalism is not the reason for refusing permission. The government does not want people to be aware about their rights. Earlier, right to education was curbed by converting schools to military camps. Now, freedom of expression has also gone.” The objections have come despite the Centre’s acknowledgment to the Community Radio Station policy in 2002 after seeing its success in other states.

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