By Biswajit Padhi
New Delhi: Community radios across India are in a shock due to arbitrary & unreasonable hike in spectrum fees that too with retrospective effect. The Ministry of Communications, Government of India vide its letter no L 14024/07/2004-WF/1563 dated 11.12.2018 has raised the spectrum fees to Rs 23500 per annum with effect from 01.04.2012. Many radios to whom this scribe contacted was surprised that how can this happen to them when the 258 functional community radios are struggling for survival.
The ministry’s ambitious plan to take the number to 4000 will receive a setback if such arbitrary hikes are effected that too with retrospective effect. Each radios are expected to shell out more than ten thousand while renewing their licenses from next financial year. The supreme court has declared spectrum as ‘ national asset” but community radios continue to enjoy a fixed moderate spectrum fee. We continue to promote people’s voices which the mainstream media seldom does & have been working in rural pockets where commercial radios fear to tread , yet the government has not been kind to us said N A Shah Ansari, President of Community Radio Association, India, the apex body of functional community radios in India.
There is very little support to community radios as the government policies are not favourable for them. Yet they continue to broadcast people’s voices which doesn’t get the space in mainstream media. Since we work in rural pockets, there is no advertisement revenue & survival is a big issue confided Father Bijo Thomas of Radio Mattoli, Kerala. Many countries like Nepal realizing the contribution of community radios have totally waived off the spectrum charges, he added. It’s an effort to stifle the integrity & pro people priorities of the community added Dr Sishir K. Das of Radio Surabhi in Odisha.
Many community radios are managed by the community & without government patronage find it difficult to manage, yet continue to operate themselves by volunteering. It has been touching fisherman communities in a big way, yet without a revenue model. They also assist the administration during disasters , particularly during cyclones & have many a times been found to be life savers. There has been many radios who work with the most downtrodden section of society like weavers, stone carvers etc & need support to continue the effort said Barsha Chabaria of Radio Salam Namaste in UP. Though the government has hiked the rate of advertisement of commercial radios, it has not done so for community radios but has tried to further tax the radios to suppress the community voice said Manmohan Singh, Secretary General of Community Radio Association. The association has appealed to the government to waive off the hike immediately to support community radios in the country.