Acknowledging the role played by community radios in promoting development among local communities, the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has given approval for the setting up of 118 new community radio (CR) stations across the country.

According to the minutes of the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) published by the I&B Ministry on its website, the Letters of Intent (LOI) i.e. the clearance needed for the setting up of the CR stations were approved by Prakash Javadekar, the I&B Minister following an expert panel committee meeting held on September 13, 2019.

Photo credit: UNESCO Chair Team

The I&B Minister commented that community radios are an efficient way of conversing with the community for the dissemination of information and for giving a boost to local artists. The committee passed 36 requests for LOIs that had clearances from all relevant Ministries or Departments. The others were given approval subject to some changes and conditions in terms of frequencies and geographical locations.

Almost three fourth of the new radio stations will be run by NGOs. Seventy-three NGOs, 24 educational institutions and 11 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK) have been granted permission to operate. Eleven government owned KVKs will be operating from Odisha. Also featured in this list is the government society-owned Indian Red Cross.

State-wise, Odisha tops the list with 25 community radio stations to its credit. Maharashtra follows with 13 community radio stations. Kerala will get 10 more stations. The other states are as follows: Uttar Pradesh -9, Bihar -7,  Haryana -6, Punjab -3,West Bengal -4, Rajasthan -3, Jharkhand -3, Chhattisgarh -3, Madhya Pradesh -3, Delhi -2, Tamil Nadu -2, Karnataka -2, Gujarat -2, Manipur -2, Uttarakhand -1, Himachal -1, Telangana -1, Andhra -1 and Jammu and Kashmir -1.

Eleven of the 118 Community Radio stations are in ‘aspirational districts’ and are given to NGOs.  These are as follows: Jharkhand -3, Bihar and Odisha -2 each, Andhra Pradesh -1, Chattisgarh-1, West Bengal -1 and Maharashtra -1.

The Department of Telecom had in August decided to dedicate two additional frequencies namely 89.6 MHz and 90.0 MHz for community radio stations. Following this decision, about 19 applications that were rejected earlier for lack of frequencies have now been cleared. They will operate through the new frequencies. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the two educational institutions that have got LOI in Delhi, will be going on air through one of these new frequencies that will be released by the Wireless Planning & Coordination (WPC) wing.

“We have received the LOI. We were trying to apply for the Wireless Operating License (WOL) online but there were some technical glitches on the website. The Ministry has then put up the offline form for the same on the website on November 18. We have filled the form offline and have sent it. We are waiting for further developments,” said N M Pillai, Chief Executive Officer, Pain and Palliative Care Trust, Kollam, Kerala that has been granted the LOI.

About 19 other LOIs have been cleared provided that they change their location so that they can be assigned frequencies by WPC. The Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) had filed a request for clearance of five stations. It has been referred to the WPC wing and if non-availability of frequency arises, they will be asked to change the proposed location or geo-coordinates.

“Manipal University, Jaipur has got a conditional approval, making it a total of 2 licenses for the institution including the one at the parent campus. If IIMC gets all its 5 new applications approved, then it would have a total of 6 licenses in its name, at different campuses. There’s nothing prohibiting this kind of ownership in the Guidelines, but it has implications,” said Prof. Vinod Pavarala, UNESCO Chair on Community Media, University of Hyderabad while analysing the new LOI’s granted.

Photo credit: UNESCO Chair Team

While responding to the approval of LOI, Rajith Chandran IIS, Deputy Director, IIMC, Kottayam said, “The Ministry has accepted our proposal, but we have not received any LOI. There have been some technical complications pertaining to allocation of frequency and it is learnt that a committee under TRAI is considering it. We have done some creative trial programming here at IIMC Kottayam and are eagerly waiting for further clarifications.”

Sanjoy Ganguli from Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed, an NGO in Kolkata that has also received the LOI commented: “Though we have received the LOI, there were no notifications regarding further steps to be taken after the approval of LOI. The WPC website was dysfunctional and a few days ago we got an e-mail stating we can fill the offline application form for the allocation of Wireless Operating License and sent it to Ministry. We have sent the application and are waiting for further responses.”

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had denied clearance for two radio stations in the North East and one in Jammu and Kashmir. The Centre for Resource Development, Imphal East, Manipur, Dogra College of Education, Jammu and Kashmir and Slopeland Public School, Thoubal, Manipur were the three that were denied clearance. All three have been given a conditional recommendation, provided they reduce their transmitting power and antenna height and succeed in securing clearance from MoD.

According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in August 2018, there are 251 radio stations operational in India. It is expected that the newly sanctioned community radio stations will become operational within the next six months and will further nurture the community radio sector in India.

 

Sreelakshmi Prakash

Department of Communication

University of Hyderabad