Prasar Bharti.. Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, July 9 : Facing acute survival issue, 80 radio jockeys (RJs) of public broadcaster All India Radio (AIR) or Akashvani's flagship frequency 100.1 FM Gold have served a legal notice to Prasar Bharati seeking approval to get them back to work, pay their pending salaries and bring back the radio programme to its original format.

These 80-odd employees were rendering their services to public broadcasting agency Prasar Bharti on a casual basis. AIR stopped calling them on duty since March 22, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 'Janata Curfew' and subsequently nationwide lockdown imposed on March 25.

These employees since then have not been paid a single penny in spite of the Prime Minister's repeated appeals and letters from the Finance Ministry to not fire employees or cut their wages.

Earning maximum between Rs 10,000 to 11,000 per month, these RJs on July 7 served legal notice to Prasar Bharti and All India Radio Director mentioning "security of their jobs and fair working conditions for them".

Working for decades in the FM Gold which was recently changed into a 24-hour live news frequency, the RJs cited April 17 PIB retweet by Prasar Bharti Executive Officer Shashi Shekhar Vempati "several casual assignees drawn from the various panels continue to be engaged across the network of @AkashvaniAIR on a need basis subject to the availability and within the permissible limit of six assignments".

After the lockdown started, the nature of FM Gold, which was established in 2001, was changed and the RJs are now jobless, with no work or salary.

Some shows assigned to them for the last week of March were also cancelled. They say they have not been paid since March 22.

FM Gold used to be an infotainment station. Besides airing news every hour through the day and night, the channel also hosted multiple entertainment and public awareness and educational shows, including Bollywood songs till the 1990s. These shows were hosted by these RJs, besides the permanent ones.

In the notice, the RJs mentioned that the non-payment to them by the Prasar Bharati is in "gross disregard to the countrywide appeal made by the Prime Minister in his mass address on April 14.

The Prime Minister had said: "Be kind to people who work with you in your business, your industry. Do not expel anyone." The notice calls upon Prasar Bharati to issue a corrigendum to this effect within 15 days from the date of receipt of the notice as these casual employees or RJs are government employees. The notice also mentions immediate payment to all casual employees and RJs for the entire lockdown period, in accordance with the directions of the Ministry of Finance and Advisory of the Ministry of Labour within 15 days.

Ashima Prakash, an RJ attached with FM Gold for over two decades told IANS that she had been facing acute problems due to job loss. "Ghar ka kitchen to chalta tha salary me (the kitchen of my house can be run in the salary)." "I as well as other RJs have been working with FM Gold for more than 20 years. We demanded payment for March at least, but all efforts were useless. We demand payment, resume duties of all RJs and bring back FM Gold into its original format." "Earlier it was FM Rainbow when I joined in 1994, Prakash said, adding it was changed to FM Gold in 2001. "Later, the frequency was changed from 106 to 100.1." She mentioned that these RJs were never treated well and finally they were ousted from their jobs in the garb of lockdown and not even paid since March.

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