It looks as if the ‘babus’ in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), the Government of India (GOI), have their own bizarre methods of evaluating the performance of the PSUs working under various Ministries. They seem to rely more on the feedback about the performance of the top management of the PSUs like NFDC as received from the beneficiaries of the largesse doled out by the self-promoting PSU head honchos.
It’s a self-serving freeloading parasitical establishment that follows the golden rule of ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’. It’s not even a large establishment and thus can be easily manipulated. It’s an unconscionable racket.
Let me give you a concrete example of one of the PSUs namely NFDC and its relationship with MIB and how its inside working was exposed in a series of articles published in Bollywood & TV Reporter, a film trade magazine.
Here are the links: –
The articles underline how the rampant sleaze and cronyism in such PSUs render them useless and ineffective in terms of doing any public good. DoPT recommends the appointments to the senior positions in these PSUs out of its existing bureaucratic pool. This makes DoPT very powerful. It rarely considers outside experts to fill in vacant slots. However, DoPT does not seem to have the wherewithal to objectively evaluate the performance of the existing head honchos of PSUs when their tenure is due for an extension. Had it had such capability it won’t have extended the term of the Managing Director of NFDC who was apparently suffering from a debilitating disease and had performed very poorly on various parameters in the view of this writer.
How do you judge the success of a public funded organization and the performance of its top-management objectively? One will probably seek answers to the following questions to come to a conclusion.
1. Is their functioning transparent and above board?
2. How efficient and effective they are?
3. What is the quality of their decisions?
4. How accountable they are to the people of India?
5. How do they treat their employees and work force?
6. What significant breakthroughs have they achieved in the fields they have been working?
7. Are they innovative and have been doing a better job than others?
Now, let us see how do NFDC and its top management perform on these criterion.
Is the functioning of NFDC transparent and above board?
NFDC is so transparent that it is facing multiple inquiries, from CAG to CVC and MIB itself. The Special Audit Report of MIB particularly highlights its lack of transparency. All these reports as per the knowledgeable sources have indicted the management for extremely serious acts of omission and commission and sleaze that actually called for CBI investigation particularly with regard to the Electronic Media Advertisement Policy (EMAP) of MIB. And in a bizarre case CVC even suggested counseling to the NFDC MD. Counseling? Does the MD have psychological problems to be advised ‘counseling’ by an agency that’s supposed to catch the corrupt and book them? What more, the man CVC expects to probe the NFDC MD, is part of the same management that sends ‘defamation’ notices to its employees for complaining to the I&B Minister about its irregular and out or order decisions and actions.
Many attempts by MIB to probe the working of the organization were scuttled and thwarted using all kinds of subterfuges. Not one inquiry has been allowed to be completed on one pretext or another with active connivance of the MIB bureaucrats. Why should there be so much secrecy and aversion shown to the audit of its accounts and working by a publicly owned organization if everything is above board?
A study of how the NFDC approves/sanctions projects, scripts, co-production, distribution and outsourcing deals also points to nepotism, crony culture, scandalous favoritism, arbitrariness, and irregular financial wheeling dealing. Nothing is transparent here.
There are many instances where filmmakers have been deliberately harassed and hounded and their projects have been sabotaged. MIB should be seriously looking into all those cases. It should also be looking into the cases where the NFDC management went out of its way to curry favours and wasted public money in the process on films that were made but never released. They became dead investments. There was a film that was made in-spite of the fact that the NFDC’s own script committee had rejected it’s script twice. However, the film was made to appease the Chairman of the board since it was his ex-wife’s project.
How efficient and effective they are?
How efficient is NFDC? It’s efficient in wasting money. It has a bigger office than some of the leading production and distribution companies of the wrold. It probably has a staff strength nearly three times more than them.
It has a ridiculously large panel of lawyers and law firms as well. What do they do? They issue legally ‘untenable’ notices of defamation to whoever questions the functioning of NFDC management, in an unprecedented and bizarre manner. They read the rule-book and the Company Law to MIB as well and have to be overruled by a Presidential Order.
All this for doing what, for a few co-production deals to be signed in a year and a low budget low end art house film to be produced, the film that never gets distributed anywhere including the home country and has no life beyond the festival circuit?
In Mumbai one can find one-room hall offices of 700 square feet super built up area in Adarsh Nagar and Oshiwara that have been making, marketing, and distributing three, four or five films every year, involving a budget far bigger than the entire annual production and co-production budget of NFDC. If we follow the international standards, the NFDC management and staff strength may turn out to be five or even ten times bigger than successful European sales agents and distributors of dozens of art-house titles every year. Is MIB aware that in spite of NFDC having its own property in prime business district of Mumbai, it operates from a rented office?
NFDC claimed and it was also advertised with fanfare as to how a loss making PSU was turned around. There could not have been a bigger fraud played on the people of India by a set of wily and corrupt bureaucrats probably encouraged by political patronage. We know now how for some inexplicable and bizarre reasons a part of DAVP business under EMAP was diverted to NFDC to make its balance sheet look good. As soon as that was stopped, NFDC was back into the sick bay.
Has MIB taken the trouble to look into these issues before considering an extension of the term of the NFDC MD and its senior managers? Such an extension will mean the extension of old wasteful culture of mismanagement, gross inefficiency, and corruption that has not changed in the last 10 years and has in fact gotten worse.
What is the quality of their decisions?
What is the quality of the decisions of the NFDC management? They pick up bad film projects. They have foreigners deciding for them what works in the film festival circuit. It’s a laughable criterion. Of course India’s underbelly, the slumdogs, the rapists, the goons, a lusty temple priest groping a goat, etc. are great Indian stories to be told because film festival programmers will readily pick them up. What can be more stupid than this? You don’t create great cinema with such objectives and agendas. It’s an insult to art.
Even the day-to-day decisions of the management are questionable and bad in intent. The decision to stop the MIB audit is an example of bad decision-making. As an agency under EMAP, NFDC made terrible and ridiculous decisions and flouted established industry and government norms. There are other decisions with regard to appointment of officers on contract basis. All norms and rules are given a go by in such appointments. Cronyism, and nepotism play an important role.
Every decision of the NFDC top management has been self-serving. It has neither promoted the cause of cinema nor of NFDC. They promote themselves at the cost of NFDC. Not one of the top management people of NFDC will find employment outside it, including its MD.
So, the Ministry of I&B must think of this. Are they employing the unemployable? Why not advertise the job, with clearly defined job specifications. Do the MOU and Articles of Association of NFDC specify that an ex-IRS must be its MD?
How accountable they are to the people of India?
The NFDC management proclaims from the rooftop that it’s not accountable to MIB. When articles based on valid MIB documents and records appear in the media of its wrongdoings and are commented upon in the Social Media it unleashes its legal hounds and PR might to harass journalists and social-media activists and bloggers instead of coming out clean. When its employees make a representation to MIB and the PMO and CVC about misdeeds of the management, yet again the legal hounds, all paid for by public money, are sent after them and criminal defamation notices are slapped on the junior staff in an unprecedented bizarre and sick move driven by some kind of a phobia.
Probably no other PSU in the history of India has resorted to such brazenly coercive, extortionist, and even preposterous tactics to silence the media and its critics in the past. The language of the defamation notices sent to the employees and the media suggest a deranged and megalomaniacal mind-set of the NFDC Management. That’s the sense of its accountability apart from the fact that every action and decision of the NFDC management is shrouded in unwholesome secrecy.
It’s appalling and disgusting that MIB bureaucracy and the Ministers cannot see the obvious. What blinds them to these ‘recorded’ realities? What happens to the pledge of the Prime Minister, ‘Na khaoonga, na khaane doonga’? Does this pledge apply only to him and nobody else? How can the gross irregularities of the NFDC management be ignored by MIB?
How do they treat their employees and work force?
Going by the available information we have, the employees of NFDC are a harassed lot, particularly the junior staff. Those who question the patently wrong decisions of the NFDC management are discriminated against and sent on uncalled for punishment postings to put them out of the way. They have made numerous representations to GOI, PMO, CVC, and MIB and their grievances are on record.
It has a staff strength of less than 100 and the top management of NFDC is constantly at loggerheads with it. It tries to browbeat them into submission using bizarre methods. It’s a unique case where the MD of NFDC does not even command the respect and trust of the junior level staff. It’s shocking and surprising that MIB has shut its eyes to this and has not paid heed to the cries of NFDC staff in spite of numerous representations.
The nadir of such behavior can be seen in the way NFDC’s senior management sent notices of defamation to its own junior employees for making a representation to the then Minister of State Shri Prakash Javdekar.
So, before taking a call on the extension of the tenure of the present MD someone should have talked to the NFDC employees. They had made representations to GOi, which should have been taken into account. The points raised in those representations were very serious in nature.
How such a bad example of industrial-labor relations can be tolerated in a PSU when even a private sector undertaking cannot get away with such shenanigans?
What significant breakthroughs have they achieved in the fields they have been working?
What is the assigned role and responsibility of NFDC? It’s presumed that it will promote ‘good cinema’. You will not come across a more ‘nebulous’ phrase than this. How do you define ‘good cinema’? NFDC seems to believe that good cinema means ‘festival films’, the ones that are screened in film festivals. That’s the only objective criterion of good cinema.
So, NFDC cultivates film festival programmers by offering them free holidays in Goa. It employs foreigners who are supposed to be part of a well-knit network of ‘film festival’ establishment as consultants. A few of the films it is remotely associated with get selected in some sections or sidebar events of a few film festivals. NFDC begins to tom-tom that as its own major achievement. The fact is it has had very little to do with them. Most of the films produced by NFDC turn out to be non-starters. They are actually terrible designer ‘festival’ films made by art house filmfakers.
I will call this a sleight of hand than promoting good cinema. What it also promotes is Indian exotica like portraying third world countries in bad light and running down local cultures and traditions. This is supported by Rotterdam based organizations like Hivos and Huberts Bals Funds and others that are known to act as conduits of western powers to influence public policy and opinion in third world nations. It’s a well-entrenched network. NFDC has been co-opted by this network knowingly or otherwise.
The fact is the quality of films and cinema supported by NFDC has been on constant decline. None of the NFDC films can be considered ‘break out’ or ‘exceptional’ cinema. It generally tags along with already discovered big names and their films that get showcased in a few film festivals in peripheral sections and sidebar events.
NFDC as a producer, distributor, and marketer of films has no breakthroughs to report. It could not produce, distribute or market a single film effectively in the past ten years. And many who worked with NFDC have bad experiences to narrate. Cronyism, favoritism, ad-hocism, etc. played key roles in its decision-making. Ask someone like Anjali Menon or even Sanjay Suri and you will know.
Why umpteen number of films were made by NFDC but never released anywhere? But did they not win awards, Golden and Silver Peacocks. Great. Don’t we know how and why they got those awards? It was like one arm of the government proudly awarding another arm. One of the crappy films of NFDC was also selected as India’s entry to Oscar once. Have any of the films backed by NFDC ever been cited as a serious cinematic breakthrough by anyone? None, whatsoever. In fact with films like CHAURANGA the quality of NFDC supported films have touched its nadir.
NFDC has a vast library of art house films including films by the masters of cinema like Satyajit Ray. The films that have been added to the NFDC library in the past ten years are worthless in comparison, artistically, archivally, or otherwise. The NFDC management hypes this ‘zero-sum’ achievement as great success. Surprisingly and shockingly the babus in MIB promote and support this fake claim. They either do it out of their ignorance or they certainly have some vested interest.
Another NFDC claim of a major achievement in the past 10 years is the Goa Film Bazaar. It’s not actually a bazaar or a film market. It’s a poor replica and a joke of a film market. No films are bought and sold here. In fact it does not even invite buyers and sellers. So, what does it do? It organizes a co-production market and a few other events, poor miniature replicas of such peripheral events elsewhere. What is peripheral becomes the main event of this market. It also works as a means to curry favors with film journalists, known names of art house cinema, the international film festival programmers and free-loading celebrities who get to have a 5 star all expenses paid Goan holiday sumptuously supplemented with free booze, lunches, dinners, and partying at the expense of public exchequer. Year after year you find the usual suspects doing and saying the same things. It’s a small coterie of mutual backscratchers. They form the ‘establishment’ that’s quite comfortable and brazen about having a ball at GOI’s expense.
There are some in this govt., owing to their lack of knowledge of the film industry, who are prone to get easily overwhelmed by the impressive line up of the likes of Shekhar Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Ketan Mehta and Sudheer Mishra at Film Bazaar. They don’t realize that the bureaucrats of Akhilesh Yaadav govt. could line them up too in five-star dos and the whole industry including the triumvirate of Khans and the Bachchan khandaan was found in attendance there. That’s the Pavlovian nature of the film industry. It easily flocks around free coin and power.
Are they innovative and have been doing a better job than others?
The new entrants have been performing far better than NFDC with no support from the govt. Look at Drishyam for instance. It’s developing, acquiring, producing, marketing, and distributing art house titles so well. It has a far smaller establishment. In the last two years the films produced by it have done extremely well in the festival circuit. It has also been able to market and distribute its slate of ‘specialty’ (art house) films domestically, which NFDC could not do in the past 10 years with any of its titles. There are numerous other producers and distributors who have been making, marketing, and distributing specialty films of various genres. They also conduct screen-writing labs in collaboration with very well established brands like Sundance. They are actually looking for talent and are not into nepotism and cronyism. It’s not just passion but business for them too.
NFDC, in spite of being in this field for decades, has not achieved even 5% of what the new private sector entrants have been able to achieve in such a short span of time. You will be surprised to learn that in the past 10 years not a single film produced by NFDC has had a proper theatrical release whereas brand new entrants have seriously tried to develop a market for specialty cinema. They have invested their own money, and have achieved good results. They are passionate about cinema and it shows in their efforts while moribund NFDC and its top management is more passionate about saving its corrupt and dysfunctional establishment and helping its cronies. This actually is the time for the govt. to shut NFDC, hive off its library of films, and let the private sectors players take charge of promoting art and craft of cinema. They are doing it far better and far more effectively than NFDC.
And the difference is so stark. On one hand you have smart, efficient, open-minded, forward thinking, and passionate young entrepreneurs and on the other you have a wasteful govt. funded PSU the top management of which is busy slapping defamation notices on its junior staff, journalists, and bloggers.
Can MIB & DoPT still let the NFDC management get away with its incompetence and corruption? Will it reward them instead of punishing and recommending a CBI enquiry into their affairs? If that happens, one will lose faith in this govt.’s resolve to set things right and fight corruption. It will certainly erode the confidence and faith of nationalists like me in GOI.
(Authored by Rajesh Kumar Singh – a columnist with GoaChronicle.com)