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Three years after bribery scandal, Censor Board finally moves certification online

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has introduced measures that it says will move a significant amount of the Censor Board’s procedures and paperwork online. The CBFC had been moving towards this digitisation since at least March last year, its records show. The Ministry said that this digitisation was done to “eliminate the need for human interface to the [maximum] extent possible”, and reduce the role of middlemen and agents. Filmmakers can now track their certificate application process on the Censor Board’s new ‘e-cinepramaan’ portal.

“Censoring corruption”

The I&B Ministry said that this digitisation will “censor corruption”. It took them long enough.

Three years ago, the highest-ranking bureaucrat in the Censor Board, Rakesh Kumar, was arrested. Colluding with middlemen and outside agents working for filmmakers, Kumar was demanding (and receiving) hefty bribes to move films through the Board faster. An external agent who represented filmmakers to the Board recorded conversations with Kumar and a middleman, and got both of them arrested by the CBI.

The then Censor Board chairperson, Leela Samson, told Scroll that such agents were not supposed to be a part of the system in the first place. She said that even though she tried to introduce transparency in the certification process, producers resisted a new system. Rakesh Kumar, the bureaucrat, used to demand up to ₹150,000 for fast-tracking a film’s approval. It’s possible that there was resistance to transparency from within the Board as well.

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Certificate records remain missing

Two months ago, MediaNama reported that the Censor Board was going to redesign its website and upload “cut-lists” of all films released in the last one and a half years. The Censor Board has indeed redesigned its website (one month after it said it would), but it has not updated its online database of certificates.

In response to an RTI application filed by MediaNama, the CBFC falsely stated that this information was indeed being uploaded on the website. This untruth was repeated by the CBFC’s current chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani in an interview with the Hindustan Times, where he bragged that he had lifted an ’embargo’ on certificate data being put up online.

Even data for Phillauri and Badrinath ki Dulhania, which the Board’s redesigned website is featuring at the time of writing on its front page, is unavailable. MediaNama sent a query to the CEO of the Censor Board on the website’s certificate database earlier this month, and has not receieved a response.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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