Television

TDP MPs meet PM to protest DTH LoI for Space TV

NEW DELHI: There is some opposition brewing to the information and broadcasting ministry's recent issuance of a conditional letter of intent (LoI) to Star India-promoted Space TV for starting a KU-band direct-to-home (DTH) operations in India.

A Telegu Desam Party (TDP) delegation, led by Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian parliament) member C Ramachandraiah, today met Prime Minister AB Vajpayee and submitted a memorandum to him decrying issuance of the LoI in "violation of the foreign equity guidelines finalised and approved by the Union cabinet."

The delegation, which comprised about 12 TDP Members of Parliament, brought to the notice of the PM an issue that they said was bothering them.

Those who were part of the TDP delegation included Ramachanandraiah, who is also the chairman of the parliamentary standing commiteee on science and tech, environment and forest, Yera Naidu, Aladi Rajkumar, Kala Venkatrao, Laljain Bashe, BK Parthasarthy and K Balakrishnamurthy.

Since we at indiantelevision don't take sides and let readers judge for themselves, we reproduce a copy of the memo that has been presented to the PM.

THE MEMO TO THE PM:

Dear Shri Vajpayeeji,

A mutiny in our mind, compels us to intrude on your valuable time and make this representation because we feel that when an irregularity of this nature and magnitude occurs, silence becomes a crime. The matter relates to the issue of letter of approval by the Ministry of I&B to M/s Space TV Private Limited, Mumbai (Space TV) for the grant of DTH licence in total violation of the foreign equity guidelines finalised and approved by the Union Cabinet under your leadership. We hope and trust that keeping in view the larger interest of our country you will take appropriate remedial action immediately.

On the 9th May 2003, the matter was raised and discussed in the Rajya Sabha when members, cutting across party lines, brought to the notice of the Minister of I&B various lapses committed by his ministry in considering the case of Space TV for the grant of DTH licence without the applicant company fulfilling the foreign equity eligibility criterion laid down in the DTH guidelines. These guidelines stipulate, inter-alia, that in order to be eligible for the grant of DTH licence the applicant must have an overall foreign equity limit of 49 per cent out of which the FDI component should not exceed 20 per cent. Space TV did not fulfil this condition and does not do it even today and yet on the 9th instant the Ministry issued, as per un-denied press reports, the letter of approval for the issue of Letter of Intent (LoI).

In reply to a reference from the Ministry of I&B, Ministry of Finance has categorically stated that the total equity in Space TV is foreign and cannot be considered against domestic equity. Of course the Ministry of Finance has left it to the administrative ministry, i.e. the Ministry of I&B, to decide at what stage this condition shall be enforced. This observation of Ministry of Finance in leaving to the Ministry of I&B the decision on the timing of enforcement of the foreign equity conditions, is in the nature of obiter dicta.

It under no circumstances can supersede the basic eligibility guidelines approved by the Union Cabinet which lays down that all eligibility criteria should be fulfilled before the letter of approval is granted to the applicant company. In his reply, during the discussion in the Rajya Sabha, the Minister of I&B conveniently avoided giving any answer to this point, as he did with many other significant queries germane to this issue. He however categorically assured the House that Space TV shall not be issued any DTH licence without following the guidelines strictly. Within a few hours of this assurance, an approval letter was given to Space TV regarding the Ministry's willingness to issue a DTH licence to it.

The Minister never disclosed to the august House that an approval letter was going to be issued shortly or is ready for issuance, despite categorical and repeated questioning by the members. This is a very serious lapse on the part of the Minister and raises a very serious question mark on the credibility of our parliamentary process.

This approval letter cannot be issued till all the eligibility criteria are fulfilled by the applicant as per the Ministry's DTH guidelines. Space TV does not fulfil the most important criterion of foreign equity and yet approval letter has been issued. This letter is null and void ab-initio and we request you to intervene and ensure cancellation of this letter immediately.

The DTH guidelines approved by the Union Cabinet under your leadership, we presume, are intended to preserve the security and cultural heritage, of our country from the invasion of the West so that India may uniquely develop on the strength of her own genius. As Gandhiji observed: "I would like to keep the windows wide open on all sides and welcome all noble ideas but I would refuse to be swept off my feet under foreign influence."

Our appeal to you Mr Prime Minister is that let this noble idea of the Father of the Nation be our polestar in the country's relentless march to progress. Let us not succumb to foreign influences after 55 years of independence. Therefore, please intervene and order withdrawal of the illegitimately issued approval letter to Space TV for the grant of DTH licence.

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