BJP MP Kirit Somaiya to file criminal case against TV trade...

MUMBAI: BJP member of parliament (MP) Kirit Somaiya is gunning for the television trade. Somaiya today announced that he is going to file a criminal, cognizable, civil complaint against the various constituents of the cable business in Maharashtra - MSOs (multi system operators), independent cable operators and broadcasters on Monday, 17 February 2003. Incidentally, the Indian parliament's budget session will commence on this day.

"The complaints are slated to be filed under various acts including IPC under section 420 (cheating), 406, 441 and 447. The charges include threatening consumers; illegal and co-perversely collecting money; and not depositing the same with the concerned authority the cheating, exploitation of consumer under the MRTP," says Somaiya.

He adds that the complaints are to be filed with the Mumbai suburban district collector, excise and permit department director, Mumbai police commissioner and collector.

Addressing a press meet today at Mumbai's BJP headquarters, Somaiya said: "We are giving a strict warning to the cable operators, MSOs and pay channels to stop passing the buck on to one another; stop exploiting and fooling the subscribers."

Somaiya has laid down the following demands to be accepted by the cable operators, MSOs and broadcasters by Monday, 17 February 2003: 

* The cable connections that were disconnected should be restored immediately.

* The price hike imposed on the subscribers for past four months should be withdrawn.

* Cable operators and MSO staff must treat their clientele with respect and dignity.

* Everybody including pay channels, cable ops should reduce their rates

"Broadcasters, MSOs and the cable operators must revert to the pay channel charges that were levied in October 2002. Any cable operators who charges more than the reasonable amount of Rs 150 should be ready to face legal action," adds Somaiya.

Somaiya has also demanded that the MSOs and the cable operators must disclose the details of the previous three years' entertainment tax, service tax, income tax collected and paid by them. He alleges that cable operators and MSOs don't give receipts to consumers.

As per the Maharashtra state laws, registered cable operators have to pay Rs 30 per connection as entertainment tax and a service charge of 5 per cent (pro-rata basis) per connection. Somaiya provided some interesting statistics: some 2407 registered cable operators in the city have disclosed connectivity for 4,47,081 consumers in this financial year and are paying entertainment tax. Additionally, service tax is being paid for only 100,000 subscribers by the cable TV trade.

Somaiya has alleged that the total number of cable connections in the city was in excess of two million in addition to the 1,50,000 commercial establishments that had TV sets. He also mentions that the government should have got Rs 37.50 for every household that pays Rs 200 per month as cable charges.

Somaiya has alleged that less than 400 cable operators were registered with the service tax department which falls under the preview of the Excise department. 

Citing the case of three Mumbai suburbs; namely Kanjurmarg, Bhandup and Mulund, Somaiya revealed that the cable operators in these areas had paid service tax for 1400 homes (less than Rs 1,00,000) instead of the registered 56,468 connections. Somaiya stated that the revenue collector had ratified these figures.

Somaiya mentioned that his office has received more than 1000 written complaints from consumers - 50 per cent of these complainants had disclosed their identities and the names of errant cable operators.

Somaiya said that he will pass on all this information to the revenue department, excise department, police and the collector. He added that these departments will have to act because of Somaiya's status as a member of parliament. He also stated that several local citizens and consumer forums will join him in filing individual complaints and cases against the cable operators.

He also said that the government officials will initiate action and probe the matter further.

0ne will have to wait and watch whether the state authorities will talk the Somaiya talk, and walk his walk. Prima facie, he's hurled an attractive gauntlet: there's oodles of cash the government can rake in as Mumbai alone can contribute collections of Rs 75 million per month on a base of two million homes! But this is not the first time such a ruckus has been raised and efforts have been made by politicians and the authorities to make the television trade pay, what has been perceived to be an exorbitant levy.

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