Cable TV

Cable off air in parts of Maharashtra, operators threaten statewide blackout

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MUMBAI: Cable operators and control room owners in the western Indian state of Maharashtra are threatening a total statewide blackout over the issue of non-payment of entertainment tax arrears.

Operators switched off feeds in many towns and cities across the state on Monday. Pune, Miraj, Sangli, Kolhapur and Pandurpur witnessed the first closures after revenue officials sealed control rooms in these places for non-payment of entertainment tax arrears. Nagpur, Akola, Ahmednagar, and Nashik were some of the other cities which joined them.

Mumbai-based Live Satellite Media promoter Atul Saraf, who is on the committee of the Union of Cable Operators and Cable Room Owners (UCOCRO), said there was a meeting scheduled later in the afternoon in Mumbai and it was likely that there would be a total and indefinite shutdown after that if their demands were not met.

Queried on what sort of feedback they had received from the big multi-systems operators (MSOs) like Hathway (in which Star has a 26 per cent stake) and Siti Cable (promoted by the Zee group), Saraf said they too were likely to support the action. "Ram Hindurani of In Cable (promoted by the Hindujas) was party to the discussions we've had and backs us fully," Saraf said.

Matters came to a head on Sunday in Pune when UCOCRO representatives from all across the state gathered for a meeting to thrash out the the issue, which 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 in August 2000 over this after which a committee representing operators, the government and consumers was set up to arrive at some sort of understanding.

Nitin Gadkari, leader of the opposition in the state legislative council, was present for the meeting. A notable absentee however was political heavyweight Sharad Pawar, leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, a coalition partner in the state government, who was originally scheduled to attend but backed out in the end.

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