Time to Revisit Community Radio
Policy Guidelines


The Community Radio Policy of 2006 allowed for the licensing and setting up of community radio stations by NGOs, besides educational institutions. A decade later, drawing from a range of international and regional experiences, and India’s own tryst with community radio, it becomes imperative to revisit the currently operational Community Radio Policy Guidelines set up by the government. The list of international recommendations on community radio drawn up at the UNESCO Paris Consultation held in 2015 and the recommendations for South Asia formulated at the same consultation, provide guidelines for shaping the future of India’s community radio sector.

It is time to bring in some interim policy recommendations, some of which can be based on the above alluded documents – which, of course need thorough discussions among representatives of India’s community radio sector.
Divided into four thematic areas (Licensing, Content, Screening and Renewal and Monitoring and Financial Sustenance), the following paragraphs capture some long-standing demands of the decade-old community radio sector in India.


Licensing is the one aspect that legitimises the operation of a community radio station. The need is now emerging to bolster transmission frequencies of community radio stations catering to diverse geographies, topography and difficult, undulating terrain and varying altitudes. In many cases, a 100 Watt Effective Radiated Power transmitter is restrictive and so, it might serve well for the government to consider the transmission of community radio over medium wave.

While doing so, integrated and speedy licensing of community radio applications, including clearances from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, should be implemented to enhance the effectiveness of the single-window mechanism and licensing should prioritise states that do not yet have an operational community radio and also cater to media dark districts in the country. As per stated government goals, every district in the country should have at least one operational community radio station.

The success story of the Cuddalore Emergency community radio in 2014 showcased the potential of community radio for providing essential information in times of a severe humanitarian crisis. This calls for special attention to the role of community radio in disaster situations – allocating a special frequency and proactive licensing of applications from disaster-prone regions.

Most importantly, on the matter of licensing, it is essential to reiterate that apart from public educational institutions, other government agencies and departments should be disallowed from running community radio stations. This is in keeping with the true spirit of community radios, which are run and managed by communities.


On the matter of content, Indian community radios stations must be permitted to broadcast independently produced news and current affairs, and, if required, FCRA norms may be revisited to enable community radio stations to broadcast news and current affairs programming. This will be in line with international norms that permit airing of local news on community radio stations.

In the same vein, suitable provisions should be made in the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy to protect communities against commercial exploitation of local cultural resources aired on community radio stations and to encourage local cultural programming.

Screening and Renewal

It is time now for screening committee membership, procedure and decision-making, including rejection of applications, should be made more transparent and accessible to the public.

Clear guidelines must be laid down for the renewal of licenses. Keeping in line with the TRAI recommendations of 2014, a five-year license duration with an assessment and renewal at the end of the period must be put in place.

The procurement of transmitters and other broadcasting equipment should be made easier, exempting community radio stations from incurring excise duties and other levies on import.

Funding and Monitoring

Allocation for public funding for community radio stations, as it exists today, should be reconceptualised to allow the setting up of an autonomous public body for decision-making on fund disbursal.

We live in the era of Digital India. So, is it not pertinent to voice the need of communities for high speed broadband to every community radio station? Can the government not advice telecom companies to exempt community radio stations engaged in online audio streaming from incurring data charges?

Lastly, an independent regulatory body should be set up to address grievances from applicants and to look into violations of programming guidelines.

Prof Vinod Pavarala
Professor and UNESCO Chair
on Community Media,
University of Hyderabad


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