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When NFDC Managing Director sent a legal notice of ‘defamation’ to her own staff

It’s bizarre yet true. NFDC sent a legal notice through the law firm Naik Naik & Company to its own staff and junior officers alleging that they defamed its Managing Director and other senior officers. You will wonder why the Managing Director Nina Gupta had to do this when she could have taken necessary disciplinary action against them under the rules of the corporation. Here, we bring you the most absurd, ridiculous, and incredible story of arrogance and vengefulness of a PSU head honcho gone rogue.

The gadflies kept a watch over every act of omission and commission of the MD

It’s a big mistake to under-estimate your subordinates. They may not have the powers that you have but they are closer to ground realities, and can be intellectually alive as well. Good bosses use this knowledge to their advantage. Bad and corrupt ones take this as a threat. Lower-level staff also tend to be conscientious and hard-working and a good leader appreciates this and leads them accordingly. However, the NFDC Managing Director, an ex-Internal Revenue Services (IRS) officer, failed to demonstrate such leadership qualities and looked at her staff and junior officers as hurdles in her wayward ways.  She tried to undermine and sideline them but they kept a close and constant watch and refused to buckle under all kinds of pressures and humiliation to which she subjected them.

These gadflies were unrelenting and when they found no other way to stop the MD’s commission of gross irregularities and nepotism, they wrote to every conceivable authority including the I&B Ministry (MIB), the Prime Ministers’ Office (PMO), and to the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) with detailed documentary evidence of the wrongdoings in NFDC.  The action and inaction that followed exposes the rot in our system. You will be surprised to learn how the bureaucrats in the ministries of the Government of India (GOI) can weave a complex and subtle web of deceit to hoodwink their ignorant, ill-prepared and ill-informed ministers. This should be a lesson for every minister in the Modi government; if you are not prepared to burn the midnight oil and slog it hard, you cannot effectively deal with bureaucratic subterfuge in your ministry.    

The arrival of Modi Sarkar raises the hopes of NFDC staff

The NFDC Employees Union, after having written earlier to PMO and CVC, had seen very little action on their specific and elaborate complaints thanks to extra-ordinarily sympathetic bureaucrats in MIB like Raghu Menon. He, for some ‘inexplicable’ and obviously ‘clandestine’ reasons, had even ignored the express advice of the then Minister of MIB Ambika Soni and recommended the extension of Nina Gupta’s tenure for five years instead of two. Soni finally had given her go-ahead on the extension qualifying it with a dissenting note that she was not in favor of such long extensions. Later, after Raghu Menon’s departure, the new secretary U.K Verma had initiated some very fruitful investigations into NFDC affairs as reported in our earlier NFDC Expose articles. The follow-up action on the findings of those investigations was scuttled as soon as Bimal Julka took over the reins of MIB as its secretary. The pattern was very clear. Nina Gupta had her saviors in the bureaucracy who, for whatever secret reasons, were willing to let her get away with nepotism and her autocratic ways.

However, the NFDC Employees Union, hopeful with the arrival of the new government whose leader believed in ‘Na khaoonga, na khaane doonga,’ submitted a memorandum and dossier to Prakash Javdekar, the new Minister of MIB. Javdekar promised to look into the matter. He was not aware that Bimal Julka, who had worked overtime to help Nina Gupta, was still the secretary MIB and was doing everything within his powers to bail her out.

Naik Naik & Company sends a defamation notice to NFDC employees

Soon, out of the blue, the members of the NFDC Employees Union, namely, Sandesh Malap, Shubhangi C. Wagh, Milind Mistry, Ajay Kamble, and Rajan Hirlekar got a ‘Defamation Notice’ on 30th June 2014 from Naik Naik & Company who claimed to represent their clients Nina Lath Gupta, Sahab Narain, Vikramjit Roy, D. Ramakrishnan, Raja Chinnal, N.K. Vyas, and Rajesh Das. The notice further adds that this coterie ‘collectively among others’ forms the management of NFDC.  

Now, it’s interesting to note here that the notice was sent on behalf of the management. What does it mean? Who was paying the fees to Naik Naik & Company – NFDC or the ‘named’ clients who were allegedly defamed? One can be certain that NFDC paid the bill for such a preposterous and legally, rationally, and morally untenable act of its top officials. It also shows how incompetent and intellectually and morally deficient is the coterie that runs NFDC today.

But still more interesting is the ‘bizarre’ cause of action stated in the notice.

Naik Naik & Company claims NFDC employees defamed NFDC management because they met Prakash Javdekar, the then Minister MIB, with their complaint

The unimaginable belligerence and obnoxious arrogance of the MD, NFDC, who would have given the final consent to the draft notice before it was dispatched to the named employees, is probably unprecedented in the history of a PSU that’s fully owned and funded by GOI. The notice to the employees was an open insult to the Information & Broadcasting Minister. One can say this with certainty that the meeting between the Minister and the employees was not held in secret. It was also reported in the media and the Minister had acknowledged the receipt of the memorandum by the NFDC employees. That’s his job. He is supposed to listen to people and look into their problems.

Let us illustrate this for you. Suppose in childhood you beat up your domestic and he goes and complains to the master of the house, your father. What would it mean if you beat him up again for doing that? Wouldn’t it mean that you did not care for what your father thought of you? That is what was happening here. Nina Gupta was sending a message to Prakash Javdekar that she did not care what he thought of her. She was cocking a snook at him, probably because she had Bimal Julka to fend for her. This was the time the bureaucrats, particularly the ones close to the previous regime, were still ruling the roost and the Modi government was expecting them to reform their ways.  

The defamation notice accused the employees of not following the regular channel of grievance redressal

What regular channel of grievance redressal one can follow when your grievance is against the head of the organization? The usual channel will be to go to the one who owns the organization. That’s what the employees had done. They had gone to PMO and CVC. What happened? CVC referred the matter to NFDC’s vigilance officer. Who was the vigilance officer? N. K. Vyas, one of the cohorts of Nina Gupta. He is one of the ‘clients’ in the defamation notice of Naik Naik & Company. He was obviously not performing his duty as a vigilance officer and merely doing the bidding of his boss.

One is also amazed that CVC acted in this manner. Though it finally advised ‘counseling’ to the MD, it did not proceed with specific cases of irregularity, corruption, and nepotism, which it should have naturally done. If this is how CVC is going to fight corruption in government, by passing on the onus of investigating specific complaints against a PSU head honcho to someone working under him/her, the institution of CVC itself needs to be disbanded.  

MD fails to intimidate employees with the preposterous defamation notice

The employees were not cowed down by their MD’s tactics. They continued to wage their battle against all odds, wrote to whoever they thought should be written to including the secretary, MIB. This forced NFDC’s ruling dispensation to respond to the ministry and issue a rejoinder. It was an arrogant and ridiculous rejoinder that resorted to further subterfuge and was like throwing dust into the eyes of the Ministry.  Interestingly, the MD had resorted to measures like punishment posting to get the gadflies off her back before going for the defamation notice route. Here again, a low-rung film projection assistant thoroughly exposed the idiotic ways of NFDC’s management.

MD tries to ‘fix’ a technical assistant

Before resorting to intimidation and threats like the ‘defamation notice,’ Nina Lath Gupta, MD, NFDC, tried to fix the ‘troublemakers’ and get them out of her way by using the familiar bureaucratic tool of punishment/transfer posting. The General Secretary of the NFDC Employees Union, Sandesh Malap, a technical assistant, was asked to go on deputation to NFDC’s regional office in Chennai to train its staff about the working of digital projection system in the newly renovated preview theatre there. If the MD presumed she could get away with that, she was in for a surprise and a little education about the law of the land.  

Malap responded to the devious transfer order intelligently. He said he was not qualified to train anyone. In fact, he was not even qualified and licensed to work as a projectionist/operator as mandated by the Cinematograph Act 1952 and Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers Act 1981. The qualified projectionists had taken VRS and left. The NFDC preview theater in Mumbai had hired projectionists on contract. Malap would simply assist them. What more, Malap also educated the highly qualified top management of NFDC that the warranty conditions of the new equipment installed at the Chennai preview theater at a considerable cost would be violated if it was operated by untrained and technically non-qualified projectionists. He got the ridiculous ‘defamation’ notice soon after this.

The entire episode reflects poorly on the coterie that runs NFDC today led by its MD Nina Lath Gupta. They come across as an intolerant and vengeful lot who can go to crazy lengths to coerce, browbeat, and threaten good and intelligent employees and junior officers into submission and silence.

In the next installment of the NFDC Expose, we will tell you about the arbitrary ways in which NFDC selected films for production and co-production based on the personal whims and fancies of its bosses. We will also tell you about the bizarre ways the NFDC board and selection committees evaluated film proposals and approved them. Keep reading.