‘Fastway is in many states. Do I enjoy political patronage everywhere?’ | punjab | Hindustan Times
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‘Fastway is in many states. Do I enjoy political patronage everywhere?’

Fastway managing director (MD) Gurdeep Singh says, “We have spread our cable business to many states. Do we enjoy political patronage everywhere? 

punjab Updated: Jul 08, 2017 09:02 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Fastway managing director (MD) Gurdeep Singh
Fastway managing director (MD) Gurdeep Singh (Sushil Prajapati/HT)

He is the man in the eye of the storm. Fastway managing director (MD) Gurdeep Singh comes from family of transporters and joined the business in 1987. Now, his fleet of luxury buses and car carriers under Jhujhar Transport boasts of 450 vehicles. But it is his reported monopoly over cable television of Punjab under alleged patronage of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal that has kept him in the news. Excerpts from an interview:

By your admission to HT in 2015, 6,500 of 8,000 cable operators in Punjab are associated with Fastway. How do you now deny charges of monopoly?

The numbers have come down since. Presently 5,290 cable operators are associated with us in Punjab and 159 in Chandigarh. Some of the earlier ones have merged with others or gone to another multi-system operator, Hinduja Cable, which is a new player in Punjab. Then, some cable operators are aligned with other groups such as Bhullar Cable in Amritsar. 

But you claim you have just 22.5 lakh TV connections with 6,500 cable operators and after importing 45 lakh set-top boxes? 

One local cable operator can have anywhere between 100 and 500 connections. There are other players in the market too, including direct-to-home in cities and towns. In villages, Doordarshan still is a dominant player. We have also entered the cable television markets of UP, Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Haryana. So the set-top boxes were not just meant for Punjab. Around 1.5 lakh of those are lying in our godown and another 1.5 lakh are lying damaged. Our connections in Punjab and Chandigarh are 24.5 lakh, of an all-India total of 42 lakh, of which 34 lakh are active.

What is the worth of your cable business now?

Our turnover is over Rs 500 crore now. We have expanded both the scale and area of our business. We have digitised the cable network business and ventured into the internet market too. 

Minister Navjot Sidhu claims you evaded central taxes to tune of crores as you enjoyed patronage of the Badal government. What’s your say?

A reputed company like Ernst and Young audits our accounts. Are we so naive that we will evade all state and central taxes? How will we apply for loans then? How will we raise funds through IPO (initial public offer)? This negative publicity is timed to scare bankers and investors as we are trying to raise capital from the open market. As for service tax, it is the individual liability of the cable operator to deposit it. We have deposited entertainment tax and charges for laying our cable or using electricity poles for overhead cable. We have spread our cable business to many states. Do we enjoy political patronage everywhere? 

There are also allegations that cable operators pay you in cash in your many bank accounts to evade taxes. Is your agreement with operators not exploitative in nature? 

We receive all our payments through cheques. There are no cash transactions. As for the agreement, it is drafted by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The considerations of the operator and the multi-system operator like us are as per TRAI agreement. 

But has your cartel not prevented even big companies providing DTH services, such as Zee and Tata Sky, to make major inroads in Punjab? 

DTH has made inroads in Punjab. As for our share of the cable market being higher than all the other MSOs, it is because of the quality of our services. Why should a consumer shell out Rs 1,000 a month for DTH when one can get more channels and local news at one-third the cost?