At Sansad TV, vice president Dhankhar calls the shots on content, layoffs, appraisal

All the 26 Sansad TV employees who were laid off were on Rajya Sabha payroll.

WrittenBy:Basant Kumar
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Sansad TV laid off 26 employees last month. Contracts of 19 temporary and freelance staff were terminated on June 12, while seven senior employees were sacked on June 27, and 15 others were told their work will be reviewed over the next six months. 

In the run up to the layoffs, the channel discontinued many of its original shows and saw vice-president and Sansad TV chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar’s keen involvement in its daily operations. Newslaundry learnt that Dhankar presided over meetings concerning the content of the channel, layoffs and appraisals. 

This comes over two years after the launch of Sansad TV in March 2021 – amid huge fanfare. It was preceded by a merger of Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV, which is still in process. 

Notably, all the Sansad TV employees who were laid off were on Rajya Sabha payroll, and the layoffs were followed by appraisals for several other employees. Before this, the employees at Lok Sabha TV had not received an appraisal for five years, and those with the Rajya Sabha TV had not got an increment for the past four years. 

Newslaundry looked at what unfolded at the organisation, leading to the sudden layoffs, much-anticipated appraisals and a shift in content strategy.  

Dhankhar’s meetings with editors, layoffs and appraisals

The first of Dhankar’s meetings with Sansad TV employees was held on January 29, in which the staffers raised grievances about their stagnant salaries. It yielded Dhankar’s assurance to the employees that things will improve. 

“Everyone was hopeful,” said one of the journalists who was present at the meeting. But the channel discontinued several original shows in April. And its CEO Rajit Punhani sent notices to 19 temporary employees on June 12 about the termination of their employment contract. No reason was stated for their dismissal. 

Following this, only two temporary employees remained at Sansad TV, Deepali Pandit and Sagir Ahmed. Both of whom work for the VP office. 

The channel’s management held its next meeting on June 27, for which Punhani summoned 22 of its senior employees to Balayogi Auditorium. All of them received an email about the meeting late at night on June 26.   

“Nobody knew that Dhankar was also going to attend the meeting. After we reached the auditorium, he arrived after a short while.” During the meeting, the vice-president reportedly said that the employees with less than Rs 95,000 salary won’t be fired and would be given a contract for the next one year, the journalist told Newslaundry.  

Subsequently, the VP met all the 22 senior staffers in his chamber. Of these, seven were separately informed by Punhani that their contract will end on June 30.    

A journalist present at the meeting said, “While seven were laid off, the remaining 15 were told at Dhankar’s chamber that their work will be reviewed over the next six months. They were given a six-month contract.”

The staff told Newslaundry, “The VP kept saying that the channel is ‘overstaffed’. But if shows are discontinued, it will be overstaffed.”

Discussion on channel’s content 

The vice-president called two meetings of Sansad TV anchors, editors and producers in his chamber on July 10 and July 11. Newslaundry learnt that during the meetings – with eight persons on the first day and 12 on the second, including the channel’s CEO Punhani – Dhankar discussed the channel’s content. 

The discussions allegedly included the matter to be aired on the channel and the shows to be made on Modi government’s nine-year term so far. 

A Sansad TV employee told Newslaundry that the meeting was not called an “editorial meeting”, but it comprised all the discussions essential to an editorial meeting.  

Dhankar’s involvement in the channel’s operations is reportedly a first for a vice-president. During former VP Venkaiah Naidu’s term, additional secretary AA Rao presided over the matters of Rajya Sabha TV and subsequently, the Sansad TV. While, under former VP Hamid Ansari, CEO and editor-in-chief Gurdeep Sappal handled the operations of the Rajya Sabha TV.  

“Dhankhar is a little different. He micromanages the channel’s day-to-day work,” said a staffer. 

Discontinuing original shows

In April, the channel discontinued several of its original shows. “We used to make five to six hours of original content every day till April. Sansad TV shows Apna Aasman, Prospective, Global Debate, Aapka Mudda, Awaz Desh Ki are among the several shows that have been discontinued,” said an employee, adding that since April, Sansad TV has been producing only two to three hours of original content a week. “The original content is also mostly made on the special visits of the vice president.” 

The journalist said: “Now that the original content has been reduced, people are being asked about their daily deliverables, and being laid off.”

All terminated staffers Rajya Sabha employees – why? 

With Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV’s merger process still ongoing, the salary payments of the Sansad TV employees are being made as per the earlier arrangements. Those who were earlier with Lok Sabha TV are paid by the Lok Sabha Secretariat and the ones from Rajya Sabha TV are paid by the Rajya Sabha. 

All the 26 staffers terminated by the Sansad TV were on Rajya Sabha payroll.

“The people who worked at Rajya Sabha were professionals. Till the UPA government, at times they would run stories not favourable to the ruling dispensation,” said a Sansad TV employee, who was also a founding team member at the Rajya Sabha TV. “Rajya Sabha TV was a government channel, but we never worked like DD News. This was not the case with Lok Sabha TV.” 

Speaking to Newslaundry, the staffer said: “A tussle between the employees of the two channels began after the merger was initiated.”   

The journalist said, “Unlike Rajya Sabha TV, the salary of people working with Lok Sabha wasn’t much. The Rajya Sabha Secretariat’s contract stated that there would be 10 percent appraisal every year. There was no such rule in the Lok Sabha. This was a major bone of contention.” 

Another Sansad TV employee told Newslaundry: “We heard the Lok Sabha TV refused to do any downsizing. In fact, out of the 22 people who were considered for layoffs on the basis of their salary being above Rs 95,000, only two were from Lok Sabha TV: Rajesh Kumar Jha and Shyam Sahay. They were later told that both of them were called by mistake.” Sahay was promoted to the position of Sansad TV editor in early July. Newslaundry reached out to him, but he refused to comment on the matter. 

Most of the employees Newslaundry spoke to alleged that the government was “trying to convert Sansad TV into Doordarshan, where the incumbent government will only be praised”. They cited the news published on Sansad TV’s YouTube channel and alleged that most of the reports pandered to the government, and were about prime minister Narendra Modi’s manoeuvres. 

Newslaundry sent queries on the matter to vice president Jagdeep Dhankhar’s office and media team, and Sansad TV chief Rajit Punhani. This report will be updated on receiving their response.

‘Benefited lower rung staff, fast-tracked merger’ 

Some of the Sansad TV employees who are content with the VP’s involvement in the day-to-day operations of the channel, credited him for “fast-tracking” the merger of the Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV, and “looking out for the lower rung staff”.    

One of the Sansad TV staffers told Newslaundry, “Had he (Dhankar) not intervened directly, the appraisal would have not happened. A large number of lower-level staff were saved because of the sacking of seven high-salaried people. At least for us, the VP has proved to be beneficial.” 

Another employee told Newslaundry that merger for Sansad TV began in 2021, but till now the ID cards for the channel were not issued. “The VP’s involvement has made the merger reach its final stage,” he said. 

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