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Punjab Govt falters in first leg of breaking cable monopoly

MUMBAI: Even as the Punjab government recently vowed to break the cable monopoly, the Municipal Corporation Bathinda (MCB) has been unsuccessful in completing its door-to-door cable survey in the city. As per the orders of the Local Bodies Department, the MCB was scheduled to complete its survey by 31 July, and submit its report to the department.

After receiving instructions from the local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to start a grassroots-level investigation against Fastway Cable, the MCB had sent officials of the rank of JE and SDO to conduct a door-to-door survey in the Bathinda, Tribune reported.

Even though the Congress government in Punjab made it clear it would not tolerate monopoly in information and news distribution via cable TV, the state government clarified no particular MSO company or TV channel would be targeted and action would be taken if found guilty of tax law violations.

Sidhu had alleged that Fastway had caused a loss of around Rs 6840 million to the state exchequer. The state government had ordered a tax evasion notice to be slapped on Fastway. Sidhu also demanded a separate investigation into the alleged under-reporting of TV connections and cable operators engaged by Fastway. Of over 8,000 cable operators in the state, 6,500 were working for Fastway, he alleged.

MSO Fastway, which holds sway in Punjab resulting virtually in a monopoly, is allegedly owned and operated by close aides of former Punjab chief minister’s family -- the Badals. The decade-old MSO company also has sizable presence in neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Union territory of Chandigarh. In an official statement, the present CM Captain Amarinder Singh made it clear that action would be taken against media companies if charges of tax violations are proved to be correct.

Around 70 Bathinda officials were deputed for the survey. In the city, these officials were to collect information of cable network from around 70,000 households. After this survey, Sidhu planned to impose entertainment tax on cable network because, as per the Municipal Act, 1976, his department had the right to collect the tax. The Union Government had kept the cable business out of the GST. As per MCB record of the last 10 years, Fastway had not paid requisite charges for using poles. After the earlier record, many new connections and areas had increased manifold.

MCB commissioner Sanyam Aggarwal admitted that he did not know how much survey work had been completed.

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