“In the prevailing circumstances at the Ministry of Information, it had become almost impossible for me to continue work for restoration of the past glory of the state television; therefore, I resigned as the state TV chairman many months prior to the expiry of my contract.”
This was stated by Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi, in a heart-to-heart talk with The News in Lahore recently.
Immaculately dressed up as ever, the man, known for his literary, journalistic, cultural and educational contributions for decades, appeared relaxed, and in his usual humour-filled mood. However, the recipient of topmost honours became quite gloomy when he was asked to comment on the allegations levelled against him in the near past. Terming the campaign part of a well-thought-out plan by some highly placed individuals in the Ministry of Information, Qasmi claimed that he never opted for any official post on his own. In various cases, he politely declined when coveted slots were offered to him. In the case of his ambassadorship in various countries including Norway and Thailand, it was a desire of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that he should perform the task. "I have a very long association with Mian Brothers. I stood with him even when the family was living in exile in Jeddah," Qasmi adds.
About the chairmanship of the state TV, the veteran journalist said that he was asked by Pervaiz Rashid, the then information minister, to take up the task after he restored and maintained rich cultural atmosphere at Alhamra Arts Council.
Qasmi says: “The reason for my taking up the task, though reluctantly, was the years long desire of restoring the lost glory of the state TV, the prized national asset, which had reached the verge of disaster.
“When I took up the charge as the state TV chairman, the institution's 26 state-of-the-art studios had been deserted and 6,000 employees of the entity were sitting idle.
“At the time of my taking the charge, Mr Malick was the MD of the TV and after his departure, Mr Imran Gardezi, the then secretary information, took the additional charge as MD. Both the gentlemen were very helpful, cooperative and shared my vision for the state TV’s revival,” Qasmi adds.
“After assuming the charge, I brought about major changes in the state TV affairs through many initiatives and made the deserted studios fully functional, and they became live and started kicking again.
“The next step was to put a complete ban to any private stuff, as our own studios had become completely functional. In fact, most of the programmes at the state TV were being bought from outside earlier,” he reveals.
“The second thing I did was to start new programmes including the renowned humorist Dr Younas Butt's serial, Farooq Qaisar's famous puppet show Uncle Surgam, Film star Reema's Show and above all my own programme titled Khoye Hooun Ki Justajoo, a highly entertaining and informative programme. In fact, it was a treasure trove for our generations to come as an electronic documentation of our living legends and a tribute to our world renowned artists, poets, politicians and socio-cultural and political figures.
“Besides upgrading the fallen standard of the state TV, I also stopped all malpractices and unnecessary expenditures in the institution. So, much so that I repeatedly refused and sent back the cheques given to me as part of my perks and privileges, which included Rs18,000 cheque presented to the chairman for office expenses.”
He recalls that the day when he took the charge as the chairman, he was presented a Rs2 lakh cheque as his entitlement for purchasing necessary items for his office. Qasmi claims he put a cross on the cheque and returned it to the director finance, directing him to use the money for the institution.
A milestone in the history of the state TV and a unique example of commitment to his cause, Qasmi saved over Rs800 million as the chairman by requesting the prime minister to cut down services charges, being extracted from the state TV by Wapda on every electricity bill. Qasmi visited the prime minister and requested him to cut it down. The PM obliged him and cut it to mere Rs5, which was just a token amount. This saving of a huge amount of Rs800 million annually now helps pay the salaries of the TV staff.
Another golden deed was the installation of air-conditioners in producers’ rooms for the first time in the history of the TV. Qasmi also donated Rs1.5 lakh for putting carpets in the state TV mosque in Multan from his own pocket.
Qasmi also revealed the real story behind the myth of his “huge” salary as the state TV chairman. He said that all promos for his programme Khoye Hooun Ki Justajoo and its ads in newspapers were charged to him and credited to his account, making it a hefty amount.
About his salary allegedly being in millions, and the concocted stories being spread in a section of the media about his huge perks and privileges, Qasmi pointed out: "I never put any burden on the institution during my tenure as the chairman.
Contrary to the allegations of drawing one crore monthly salary, he received only Rs15 lakh, which is far less than many anchors’ salary in various private TV channels. “Except for that, I never took a single penny for my own programme, under which 60 episodes were conducted.
“I used to conduct four programmes monthly, but ridiculously all production and other expenses were shown as my salary in the malicious campaign continuing against me lately,” he laments.
“As far as my alleged lavish spending, I even didn't allow making a separate camp office for me in Lahore and shared the General Manager’s office there. During my official visits to various stations, I would take only my private secretary with me. When I went to Karachi, I stayed with a five-member crew in a two-room moderate accommodation.
"After assuming the charge, things went smoothly for about two years, and then trouble started due to unwanted interference by the Ministry of Information.
“Curtailing the powers of the chairman, interference in my work and a display of unnecessary arrogance on the part of the ministry made things hard for me, and it became extremely difficult for me to continue my work. So I resigned from my office months before the expiry of my tenure.
“News was circulated in the media to tarnish my image, and then came a smeary campaign on the behest of those who couldn't swallow the good work on my part,” he adds.
Qasmi has a lot to his credit so far. Besides being the writer of 18 books, which have been translated into four languages, he authored state TV's memorable plays including 'Khwaja & Sons’, ‘Shab Daigh’. He is the host, creator and initiator of the historic programme ‘Khoye Hooun Ki Justajoo’.
Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi has been awarded the Pride of Performance award, Hilal-e-Imtiaz, Sitara-e-Imtiaz, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz and numerous other prizes and awards.
Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi served as the chairman Alhamra Arts Council for eight years. During this period, he regularised the jobs of a large number of Alhamra employees. He belongs to a well-known and highly respectable religio-political family, which migrated from Arab to Agra and then to Kashmir about 800 years back. Later on, his family settled in Pakistan. He is a part of syllabus and almost 20 MPhil papers and one PhD thesis have been written on him.
Here is a list of guests who appeared in the show “Khoye Hu'un Ki Justaju”:
1: Tariq Aziz (TV Host)
2: Mr Mamnoon Hussain (President Of Pakistan)
3: Mujeeb Ur Rehman Shami (Senior Journalist/ Coloumnist)
4: Asghar Nadeem Syed (Writer/ Drama Writer)
5: Muhammad Qavi Khan (Senior Actor)
6: Munno Bhai (Drama Writer/Coloumnist)
7: Khawaja Saad Rafeeq (Politician)
8: Jugno Mohsin (Editor Friday Times)
9: Reham Khan (TV Host/Journalist)
10: Mir Zafar Ullah Khan Jamali (Former Prime Minister Pakistan)
11: Syed Khursheed Shah (Politician)
12: Najam Sethi (Journalist/ Chairman PCB)
13: Sohail Warraich (Journalist/ TV Host)
14: Tahira Syed (Singer)
15: Altaf Hasan Qureshi (Editor Urdu Digest)
16: S M Zafar (Lawyer/ Politician)
17: Sartaj Aziz (Politician)
18: Malik Rafeeq Rajwana (Governor Punjab)
19: Senator Mushahid Ullah (Politician)
20: Dr Qasim Bhugio (Chairman Pakistan Academy Of Letters)
21: Hamid Mir (Journalist/ TV Host)
22: Dr Inam Ul Haq
23: Anwar Maqsood (Writer/ TV Host/Actor)
24: Masood Mufti (Writer)
25: Muhammad Ali Shehki (Singer)
26: Mustafa Kamal (Politician)
27: Haseena Moeen (Drama Writer)
28: Qazi Wajid (Actor)
29: Shakeel Adil Zada (Writer)
30: Tina Sani (Singer)
31: Noor Ul Huda Shah (Drama Writer)
32: Talat Hussain (Actor)
33: Absar Alam (Former Chairman Pemra)
34: Umer Cheema (Journalist)
35: Akram Sheikh (Lawyer)
36: Farooq Qaiser (Artist/Puppeteer/ Columnist)
37: Arif Nizami (Senior Journalist)
38: 38: Hussain Bakhsh Gulu (Classical Singer)
39: Raja Muhammed Farooq Haider (Primie Minister Azad Kashmir)
40: Farida Khanam (Singer)
41: Tasneem Norani (Former Bureaucrat)
42: Dr Amjad Saqib (Founder Akhowat Foundation)
43: Baba Muhammed Yahya Khan (Religious Scholar)
44: Masood Asher (Senior Journalist/ Columnist)
45: Dr Younas Javaid (Drama Writer)
46: Shahid Sidiquee (VC Allama Iqbal Open University)
47: Iftikhar Arif (Intellectual/ Writer)
48: Fateh Muhammed Malik (Writer)
49: Javaid Chaudhry (Columnist/ TV Host)
50: Dr Javaid Akram (Vc Shaheed Zulfiqar Bhutto Medical University/ Pims Hospital)
51: Dr Khalid Toqar (Turkish Writer)
52: Anwar Masood (Poet)
53: Irfan Sidique (Columnist/Adviser to Prime Minister on National History And Literary Heritage)
54. Javaid (MD National Book Foundation)
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