The government’s reported agreement to waive spectrum and royalty fee for community radio stations has been welcomed by the latter.
It would mean relief on sustenance for the operators, mostly educational institutes, non-government organisations, small communities and a few gram panchayats.
Early this year, the government had said it was planning to raise the spectrum fee for these stations from Rs 19,000 to Rs 93,000. The proposal for a fee waiver came after community radio representatives met telecom minister Kapil Sibal recently. The information and broadcasting ministry has also recommended this to Sibal’s ministry. Officials indicated a formal decision was likely soon.
“This waiver would definitely be a relief, as a five-time hike is a roll-back for the idea of community radio stations. Logically, nothing should be made expensive for community radio operators,” said Barsha Chabaria, vice-president (north), Community Radio Association of India. She also heads the Salaam Namaste Community Radio station, a unit of the Institute of Management Studies, Noida.
“The exorbitant hike would have killed community radios,” said Archana Singh, chairperson, Jyothirgamaya, a radio station under the School of Communication Studies, Punjab University. The fee waiver would be a great booster, she added.
However, waiving spectrum fee isn’t enough. “The government should open avenues for advertisements and there should be government grants for community radios,” said Chabaria. “The government should help community radio stations across the country.”
She noted these help develop awareness in the remotest areas. More government support would ensure sustainability. “We do get some advertisement support from the government. But, that is not enough,” she said.
According to Singh, her station sustains on university grants. “Otherwise, it would have been difficult to run the radio. Generating content is an issue. And, lack of funds increases the problem,” she added.
Of 370 licences given so far, only 135 community radio stations are operational. The Wireless Planning and Coordination department of the telecom ministry has not given any new licence for quite some time. About 260 applications are pending at different stages of approval.