The first chief of Prasar Bharati News Services﹘the news agency of India’s public broadcaster﹘was appointed despite holding positions in private companies in alleged violation of service guidelines, Newslaundry has learnt. Samir Kumar continues to be the PBNS director though a complaint was made to Prasar Bharati about his association with other firms and allegations of harassment.
A letter to union information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur by a PBNS staffer had also pointed out that Kumar has no experience in journalism. An alumnus of IIT and IIM, Kumar was a director in Deutsche Bank in Singapore till May 2018, and ventured into the media industry in May 2019 when he joined Hindusthan Samachar as its CEO.
Kumar is a director in two private firms despite rules and guidelines for “non-governmental employees” of Prasar Bharati stipulating that no employee can be associated with any other institution during service. Any such violation is liable for termination of services, according to the rules.
According to information available on the corporate affairs ministry, Kumar is a director at Parintek Innovations Limited since March 15, 2017, and at Science Wience Private Limited since February 10, 2017— his Director Identification Number is 07718901. He was appointed as the head of PBNS when the service was launched in 2019.
A major reason behind the launch of the PBNS was the government’s ostensible failure to establish control over the The Prasar Bharati had started subscribing to other agencies as an alternative; Hindusthan Samachar was one of these. BJP leader R K Sinha had been funding Hindusthan Samachar and Samir Kumar was its CEO. However, when negotiations between Hindusthan Samachar and Prasar Bharati did not yield results, the PBNS was launched, with Kumar becoming its first chief.
The fourteenth point of Prasar Bharati rules and guidelines for “non-governmental employees” states, “During the period of your contract, you shall not directly or indirectly own, manage, control, participate in, provide consultation or business, in any other business unit or an organisation without written permission.”
“You cannot be associated as an owner, employee, officer, director, agent, partner, consultant or contractual assignment, directly or indirectly, part-time or otherwise.”
The sixteenth point clarifies, “If you commit any breach of terms of clauses 12/13/14/15 of this contract, Prasar Bharti would be at liberty to terminate the contractual engagement with immediate effects without assigning any reason.”
No rule broken: Kumar
Newslaundry has a copy of a letter, written during the second wave of Covid by an assistant director (programming), to several Prasar Bharati functionaries, including CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati and Doordarshan DG Mayank Agarwal, and minister Anurag Thakur.
Asked by Newslaundry about his association with the two companies, Kumar said, “You have taken this out by using DIN number. Finding this information is not rocket science.” Asked if this was not a violation of service terms, he said, “If you are talking about Prasar Bharati rule then you talk to Prasar Bharati. Rest, no rule is being broken here. I am a co-founder of these institutions. These are startups where I am an investor and I assist them sometimes by giving advice. Everyone knows this. It is from the time I hadn’t come into Prasar Bharati anyway.”
Asked if the Prasar Bharati has been informed of his association with these firms, Kumar replied with a “yes”.
The car Kumar uses to travel to office is also registered in the name of one of these companies. While the vehicle has a “government of India” logo, it is in the name of Parintek Innovations Private Limited. Kumar admitted that he uses the said vehicle though he added that he will have to check if the car is in his name. He said the government logo has been used because he utilises the vehicle.
The letter by the PBNS officer stated, “This law of Prasar Bharati is only applicable on weaker employees, not on Samir Kumar. Kumar is enjoying his association with two companies.”
It also alleged harassment. “I am going through immense mental stress in the state of mental harassment. I take medicines for hypertension, high blood pressure and diabetes. If I die in today’s difficult times then DDG madam Navneet Kaur and shri Samir Kumar would be the ones completely responsible.”
This employee had joined PBNS on March 1, 2021. “I gave my joining on March 1, 2021…Samir Kumar said that ADP is not needed here. When DDG Navneet Kaur arrives from Bhopal she’d take the decision. You will not come to the PBNS office.”
Kaur could not be reached for comment.
The officer claimed he was also pressured to write a complaint against Doordarshan’s content head Rahul Mahajan. He also alleged that Kumar brought in employees as per his wishes and misbehaved with them.
The officer refused to speak to Newslaundry when contacted. An employee linked to the episode said the matter is being investigated.
When Newslaundry asked Kumar about the allegations, he began questioning the source of information. “Have you taken this information via RTI? How did you come to possess internal information? You talk to the additional director general HR about this.”
We tried to reach out to Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati about the allegations against Kumar. Vempati disconnected the call saying that he doesn’t want to discuss anything with Newslaundry.
The report will be updated if we receive any response to our queries.
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