Cable TV

Cable operators demand scrapping of entertainment tax, threaten to black out news channels

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MUMBAI: Cable operators and control room owners in the western state of Maharashtra are up in arms over what they term heavy handed treatment from the authorities on the issue of entertainment tax arrears.

They are now demanding the complete scrapping of the tax saying it is impossible to implement in a rational manner and have instead suggested that the government charge a one time tax on the purchase of new television sets.

Matters came to a head after a recent directive from the government to get tough on defaulting operators following which certain operators were arrested and control rooms seized.

The issue has been hanging fire for over six months following the doubling of entertainment tax per connection per month from Rs 15 to Rs 30 in municipal areas and from Rs 10 to Rs 20 in other parts of the state. It may be recalled that operators went on strike over the issue in August 2000 after which a committee representing operators, the government and consumers was set up to resolve the issue.

Mumbai-based Live Satellite Media promoter Atul Saraf, who is on the committee representing cable operators accused the government of putting forth unreasonable demands.

Saraf said a number of options were being considered which included blacking out all news channels or even a total shutdown similar to what was witnessed in August. If the government still refused to come around they would move the courts, he said.

Despite meetings with revenue minister Ashok Chavan and one with finance minister Jayant Patil last month, there appeared no solution in sight, Saraf said.

Saraf cited the situation prevailing in the eastern state of West Bengal to buttress his argument, where he said a one-time tax was paid on the purchase of new television sets. "West bengal charges no entertainment tax so why should there be one here?" he asks.

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