Sidhu declares war on Punjab’s ‘cable mafia’, says Fastway ‘bullied’ Reliance
Citing details got through the Right to Information (RTI), Sidhu said, “Fastway evaded taxes to the tune of crores. There are 8,000 cable operators in Punjab, of which 6,000 are directly under Fastway and 1,500 indirectly. But the company shows just 1,500 operators on its logbooks.”punjab Updated: Jun 24, 2017 09:20 IST
A prime poll promise of the Congress did not get fulfilled in the budget session of the Punjab assembly that concluded on Friday. The government failed to bring in a legislation to end the hold of Fastway, allegedly owned by the Badals, on the cable network, though minister Navjot Singh Sidhu had on Thursday announced to probe what he termed the “Fastway scam worth Rs 500 crore”.
After passing of 11 bills in the absence of the opposition parties, Sidhu got up to dish out figures on alleged tax evasion by Fastway, a company he said enjoyed “patronage” of the Badal family. He was replying to Congress MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa during Question Hour.
“It is a miracle,” he remarked, employing sarcasm, “A company that started with Rs 25 lakh as capital showed profit of Rs 30 crore during its first year. Like a big fish, it ate away the small fish. It created a monopoly by intimidating cable operators. It rendered over 1 lakh youth jobless.”
Citing details got through the Right to Information (RTI), he said, “Fastway evaded taxes to the tune of crores. There are 8,000 cable operators in Punjab, of which 6,000 are directly under Fastway and 1,500 indirectly. But the company shows just 1,500 operators on its logbooks.”
He added, “There are over 80 lakh television connections in Punjab, but it shows just 1.25 lakh on its books. It evaded sales tax on set-top boxes, gave no security refunds, and only 150 cable operators (under it) paid entertainment tax.”
He then claimed that Fastway had “bullied Reliance Communications, which was laying cables for 4G mobile services, to lay its cable too, for free”. A company has to shell out Rs 500 for every metre of road-cutting to lay cables, and Rs 1,000 for every manhole, he said. “But Fastway paid nothing for laying its network in Punjab.”
“We will uproot their network,” he told the House. Saying that though all taxes will now be subsumed under the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the local bodies department can impose some cesses, he declared, “We have served them notices for entertainment and other taxes.”
AAP supports Sidhu
AAP MLA Kanwar Sandhu, who as a TV channel editor some years ago had made allegations of “bullying” by the cable network, came out in support of Sidhu. “I had sought a CBI inquiry into the cable mafia of Punjab. I had also written to Union information minister Arun Jaitley. Rising above party lines, I support Sidhu for coming out with a policy to regulate the cable business.”
Fastway denies charges
In a statement issued on Friday, Fastway said cable operators and Fastway are separate entities. “The company has nowhere and never declared that it has only 1.25 lakh connections. All connections/subscribers are declared with the regulatory authority TRAI. The company is regular in paying the due service tax.”
It added that of the 10,500 km of underground fibre cable, “Fastway has taken 6,500 km on lease from different companies such as Connect, Airtel, BSNL and Reliance Communications. FW owns the balance 4,000 km... The optic fibre laying charges and road cutting charges have regularly been deposited to the company (concerned).”