As reported by Indian Express, The Rajya Sabha Secretariat has decided to probe the alleged irregularities in the functioning of the Rajya Sabha Television (RSTV). The RS secretariat has formed a one-man inquiry committee to look into the allegations since its inception, specifically the expenditure incurred on the production of a film called “Raag Desh”.
Raag Desh, a film made during the end of Ansari’s tenure as the Vice President was produced by the then CEO and editor-in-chief of RSTV Gurdeep Sappal and was directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia. The expenditure of Rs 13 crore was incurred on the movie and had raised questions after its release, as it did not make any profit at the box office.
The RS secretariat has now formed a one-man panel under Dr P P K Ramacharyulu and assisted by D K Mishra, to probe into the irregularities occurred during the production of the movie. The panel has been asked to submit its report within three months.
Rajya Sabha TV, which began in 2011 under Ansari, is owned and operated by the Rajya Sabha. The channel was setup to broadcast the live coverage of the Rajya Sabha proceedings. Before the advent of RSTV, the Lok Sabha TV would telecast the proceeding of the Rajya Sabha, but in 2011 Ansari led Rajya Sabha made efforts to setup a separate channel using Parliament’s Sansad Cable Network with a modest budget of Rs.1.55 crore.
It is reported that the RSTV, since its inception has spent a huge amount of Rs 1,700 crore of taxpayers money till 2015 to operate the channel. The budget for RSTV is bigger than any government channel and also doesn’t generate any revenue, as the channel has not made any profits out of advertising.
Gurdeep Singh Sappal, former CEO of the RSTV was picked by Ansari without any procedure for selection unlike LSTV, which advertise to fill the post of its CEO. Sappal, despite having zero experience as a journalist was picked up by Ansari and granted lifetime access to the Central Hall during the end of Ansari’s tenure. Addition to that, Sappal was provided with other perks and lavish accommodations and a distinguished pass for Parliament’s Central Hall.
Sappal speaking to India Express said that all due procedures were duly followed and no lapse was identified at any level. “As far as Raag Desh is concerned, it was produced with the approval of the Content Advisory Committee of RSTV, comprising leaders of all major parties in Rajya Sabha. The film earned critical acclaim and was well received by media pundits and reviews,” Sappal said.
The management of the Rajya Sabha television under Hamid Ansari has been extremely controversial and often accused of mishandling the channel. Hamid Ansari, who was also the head of the RSTV, is often accused of promoting nepotism by hiring journalists, who are loyal to the Congress party. The infamous opinion makers like M K Venu and Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editors of The Wire, were paid handsomely, Rs. 15,000 per appearance, totalling to Rs. 33 lakh and Rs. 14.70 lakh respectively, of the taxpayers’ money in the last few years to spread their agenda using the channel’s resources.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, soon after taking charge as the ex-officio chairman of the Rajya Sabha had ordered the expenditure and manpower audit of the channel. It was reported that the Vice President had questioned the nature of expenditures incurred by the channel on renting office premises, hiring cabs and producing a feature film.