| 22 Sep 2023
Will the Sixth National Sammelan solve Community Radio stations' problems?

MUMBAI: The sixth National Sammelan of operational community radio stations (CRS) in India starts today in Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. The Sammelan will be conducted in association with the One World Foundation from 18 to 20 March 2016.

These Sammelans are conducted to help solve the issues faced by CRS and pan out a way forward. So, what are the issues that community radio stations in India are facing at the moment? contacted a few CRS to understand the issues faced by existing stations. The main issues facing the CRS are -

1) Funding
2) Programming
3) Technology
4) License renewal

These are the four issues that most of the CRS face in India. In fact, lack of adequate funding appears to be a huge threat to the existence of these stations. Most of these stations are run by NGOs and Not-for-Profit organisations, relying heavily on government support. In fact, the 12th Five Year Plan had also introduced a new scheme, namely the ‘Community Radio Support Scheme’ (CRSS), but station owners say it did not benefit the CRS much. “The government had assured Rs 100 crore for CRS but not a penny has gone to community radio stations. There has to be some push from the government to keep us going,” said Archana Kapoor of Radio Mewat. Kapoor has also been a treasurer of the Community Radio Association (CRA) in the past.

Radio Mewat is a community radio station located in Mewat, an extremely backward district in the state of Haryana, India. Radio Mewat seeks to give voice to the voiceless in this backward community.

Another way of earning some revenue is the DAVP (Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity) for the CRS. But, unfortunately, the DAVPs is also apparently not serving the purpose either. “We are not getting many ads from the government. Neither are we getting local ads,” claimed Pinky Chandran of Radio Active, a community radio station that is committed to enhancing the capacities of local institutions and communities in the use of community radio.

The lack of local ads too has a lot to do with programming on CRS. The community radio stations are only allowed to play local folk music and talk about issues in their region. They cannot air news or play the usual Bollywood numbers like the FM stations. Commented a community radio veteran on condition of anonymity, “Government funds the stations only when the air what they are asked to. They are expected to air the prime minister’s address, ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and various other government programmes. If they don’t air these, they wouldn’t be funded. And local advertisers won’t advertise on these stations because the reach is limited.”

A CRS is allowed a 50-watt power transmitter at the moment, but these transmitters work differently for CRS in different regions. In a hilly terrain, the 50-watt transmitter may not work as well it would in the plains where there are no obstructions, says a radio expert. “In some places, the villages too are at a huge distance from each other. In such cases, one would need more power to reach out to the villages. The government needs to consider these points.”

The CRS owners have to also go through a tedious renewal process, allege those running them. As per I&B Ministry website there are 188 operational CRS in India while, they have received 1806 applications. The 188 stations include a lot of pending renewals. “There are major issues like renewal of licensing that need to be discussed, but they are usually pushed under the carpet,” lamented Kapoor.

So, what can one expect from the Sixth National Sammelan? However, before we get to the expectations, there is something that the I & B ministry has done to make the Sammelan more engaging and transparent. The ministry requested the existing CRSs to send in suggestions, themes and sub-themes that would then be included on the agenda of the national Sammelan. Will that help? “The idea of sending suggestions for the panel discussion has pretty much been blank. The agenda of the panel discussions have not been shared with CRSs. This is lack of transparency. Ideally, they should have shared the themes and sub-themes for the stations to prepare themselves,” rued Arti Jainman of Gurgaon Ki Awaz, a station that wants is a platform for marginalised voices in Gurgaon, mainly local villagers and migrant workers, especially their culture, their key needs and their aspirations.

She added, “The ministry used to earlier invite people from various countries as well as activists to these Sammelans, but that hasn’t been the case this year. The overall involvement helped CRSs learn and understand the functioning of CRSs across the globe.”

Echoing Jainman’s sentiments, Kapoor said, “No funds are being issued for CRSs to attend international seminars. Currently, we are on a mission but we are losing on the vision. We need to get the vision back in place.” She added, “Nepal has 275 CRSs and it is a very small country in comparison to ours. We need a five-year plan in place.”

Jainman believes that the Sammelans have now been reduced to a dealers’ conference, but she is still hopeful. “There is too much silence and it’s almost deafening. When I joined CRS in 2008 there was excitement. There were promises of three thousand CRSs. But, in the last few years, everything seems to have frozen. The last revised policy was in 2010 not much has changed since,” ended Jainman.

Keep watching this space for more from the Sammelan.