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Controversies dogged Smriti Irani’s 10 months in I&B Ministry

In a significant cabinet reshuffle on 14 May, Irani was shifted out of the I&B ministry, and MoS Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was given the portfolio

SNS | New Delhi |

Smriti Irani assumed office as the Information and Broadcasting Minister in July 2017 following M Venkaiah Naidu’s resignation from the ministry after NDA made him its Vice-Presidential candidate. In a significant reshuffle late Monday (14 May) evening, Irani was shifted out of the I&B Ministry, and her deputy, Minister of State Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, was handed over the portfolio.

With Smiti Irani at the helm, the I&B Ministry remained in news for making some controversial decisions.

The controversy over “guidelines to regulate fake news” was the most prominent among them. The order had warned that journalists would be denied access to the government even on mere accusation of spreading fake news. They could also lose their accreditation for a limited period or permanently.

The decision caused widespread outrage among media organizations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to intervene and the guidelines were withdrawn within hours.

READ | Smriti Irani removed from I&B, Piyush Goyal to handle Finance until Arun Jaitley recovers

The PMO said the decision on what constitutes fake news should be left to press bodies.

The ministry also came in for criticism in April when it issued an order to constitute a committee that would frame rules to regulate news portals and media websites.

More than 100 media professionals had then written to Irani, saying additional regulations will open up the possibility of widespread abuse and attempts to suppress political dissent.

When around 50 recipients of the National Film Awards boycotted the award ceremony earlier this month, her ministry was at the centre of a controversy again.

Smriti Irani, I&B ministry
Smriti Irani and Rajyavardhan Rathore with actor Bhanita Das who won the Best Child Artist, at the 65th National Film Awards ceremony on May 3, 2018. (Photo: IANS)


The recipients were unhappy over President Ram Nath Kovind presenting the awards to only 11 of the winners.

It was reported that Rashtrapati Bhavan had conveyed to the Prime Minister’s Office its unhappiness over the President’s office being dragged into the controversy, hinting at mismanagement on the part of the I&B Ministry.

A number of Indian Information Service (IAS) officers were transferred during Irani’s tenure. Approaching the PMO, the officers’ association said the orders were in contravention of the rules and established practices.

A row had erupted after there were reports that the ministry did not release funds to Prasar Bharati due to an alleged standoff between them, and the public broadcaster had to pay its staff the salary for January and February out of its contingency funds.

The ministry had then said Prasar Bharati had not signed an MoU with it as required by autonomous bodies getting grants-in-aid by the government.

The ministry was also accused of violating the Prasar Bharati Act when it proposed to appoint an IAS officer as the Member (Personnel) on the Prasar Bharati Board. The proposal was reportedly dropped at its board meeting in February.

Another resolution was reportedly dropped at the meeting and it pertaining to the appointment of two senior journalists as head of Doordarshan News and Chief Editor of Prasar Bharati News Service (AIR). The two journalists were reportedly being hired at higher costs.