MUMBAI: Cable operators in Maharashtra have been fighting tooth and nail to reduce the Rs 45 entertainment tax (ET) levied on them by the state government but nothing seems to be working. Now, in a fresh move, the state cabinet has approved an amendment which makes the multi-system operators (MSOs) responsible for the collection of ET from the Last Mile Owners (LMOs).
Earlier, the onus was on the LMOs, who were supposed to collect the ET along with the service tax and give it to the state. In December, the Maharashtra Cable Operators Federation (MCOF) moved the Court challenging the Maharashtra state government's amended gazette resolution (GR) regarding entertainment tax. According to the amended GR, it was mandatory for the LMOs to file a joint affidavit with the MSOs while paying entertainment tax. However, last month the Bombay High Court ordered an interim stay on the amended gazette resolution (GR) of ET.
MSOs and LMOs are all wondering whether this amendment will come into effect or will it be regarded as as contempt of court, since the High Court's stay order is in place. As of now, no notification or communication has been issued to the parties involved. “We can only comment after the notification is passed. But we wonder what will happen since the matter is sub judice and the LMOs are stating that it is their business to deposit the tax,” says Hathway president Milind Karnik.
Indusind Media (InCable) managing director Ravi Mansukhani is puzzled about the government's move. ""How can they pass this?," he asks. "The case is pending in several courts." But he adds that he is "absolutely fine if the LMOs want to do it. It will be difficult for us to reach out to subscribers the way they do. The reason why the government has taken this step is because it is easier to collect it from a few MSOs rather than so many LMOs"
MCOF is looking at approaching either the High Court or the Supreme Court depending on the circumstances. “We will definitely not comply and will continue giving the tax to the High Court only,” says MCOF task manager Bobby Shah.
The Maharashtra government expects MSOs in the state to give their customers bills that will include an additional Rs 45 as entertainment tax besides the service tax of 12.36 per cent following the notification. “Majority of people will have to shed more money for the cable TV service while a few will have to give marginally more than what they are currently paying,” says Shah.
However, the operators are still protesting against the high ET rate and want it to be reduced. “The amendment is not bothering us much, but what is important is the high rate of entertainment tax that needs to be brought down,” says Cable Operators and Distributors Association (CODA) president Anil Parab.
MOS ABS Seven Star CMD Atul Saraf says that he is fine with collecting ET from the LMOs. “But the amount needs to be reduced to just Rs 10 to Rs 15 so that the customer isn’t burdened with the extra cost,” he opines.
Now, it’s a wait and watch situation if the Maharashtra cabinet’s decision is regarded as contempt of court, or if it will come into effect from the date of notification! Whatever happens, it’s surely going to bring clarity on the revenue that the government earns.