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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Informa­tion is planning to shift the Pakistan Broad­casting Corporation (PBC) headquarters and give its existing premises on a long-term lease, according to a letter issued by the ministry.

The letter, available with Dawn, was sent to the PBC director general. It states that Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has directed the persons concerned to prepare a proposal for handing over the Radio Pakistan headquarters on a long-term lease and shifting the PBC headquarters to its training academy located in Sector H-9, Islamabad.

This has naturally upset the employees on whose behalf PBC CBA (Collective Bargain­ing Agent) Secretary General Ijaz Ahmed has decided to take up the matter with the management.

Speaking to Dawn, he said: “Initially we spoke to Director Administration Mehmoodul Hasan Akhtar and told him that CBA would never accept the proposal. Then, we went to the office of DG PBC Shafqat Jalil [also Principal Information Officer] to discuss the matter. Mr Jalil spoke to Mr Danyal Gilani [Director to Minister’s Office] in our presence and assured us that he will stand along with the employees.”

Mr Ahmed said they were mulling over other options. “We will use all possible options, including protest and contacting courts if the proposal is not withdrawn.”

On Wednesday, the CBA held a meeting with the PBC director general, but also decided to call the representatives from across the country on Monday to devise a future line of action.

Regarding the shifting of the employees to the training academy, Mr Ahmed said that currently 1,500 employees were working in the building of the PBC and it would not be possible to accommodate all of them at the academy comprising a few rooms. “In the PBC training academy, even 200 employees cannot be adjusted,” he claimed.

“How can the government suggest that 1,500 employees vacate a six-storey building and shift to a single-storey building? We will take all possible steps to have the proposal withdrawn,” he said.

Moreover, he added, billions of rupees would be required to build studios, which were available in the existing building and not in the training academy. “The cost of one studio’s construction would come to millions of rupees and several studios would need to be constructed.”

The concerns of the PBC employees were certainly not off the mark because the minister, Fawad Chaudhry, posted messages on social media that the Radio Pakistan building would be given on lease in order to build a media university. “Unless we don’t have an international standard university, we will remain dependent.” He also said that there were a number of “dead properties” in the country which could be utilised to generate funds.

However, PBC DG Jalil tried to allay the concerns of the employees and told Dawn that he had taken up the matter with the ministry and so far it was only a proposal. “I don’t think the union needs to worry about it as we are just exploring possibilities,” he said.

Former Radio Pakistan DG Murtaza Solangi tweeted over the matter, saying: “The foundation of the National Broadcasting House, now being forcibly leased out and employees evicted was custom built and the foundation stone was laid by President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on 27th April‚ 1972.”

Talking to Dawn, Mr Solangi said: “Such proposals should be discussed in parliament, parliamentary committee on information and also with civil society before taking any decision. Some persons are saying that private FM radio stations are being run from single rooms, but they are not aware that Radio Pakistan has 32 Medium Wave stations and it requires a lot of space.”

According to Mr Ahmed, the existing PBC headquarters had a three-storey basement that used to be inundated with water every now and then. “We had to shut down two storeys, but the problem continued as the topmost basement gets filled up with water which needs to be emptied via a pump every couple of days.”

Moreover, “two decades back a German team surveyed the building and said that the western side of the building sinks one inch every year”, he added.

He said that the matter would be taken with the information minister when he returned from foreign visit.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2018