Navjot Sidhu’s bill to slow down Fastway cable company hits legal hurdle
Sidhu has been told by legal wing that the bill, which was to be presented in winter session, will need President’s assent in present form as some parts clash with central act.punjab Updated: Dec 03, 2017 21:06 IST
Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s ambitious bid to nail Fastway, the cable transmission company he claims was patronised by former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, has hit a legal hurdle after approval by the state cabinet in October.
The bill was to be tabled in the winter session of the assembly but was put on hold, as the legal remembrance (LR) conveyed to the chief secretary that certain content of the bill clashes with a central act on regulation of cable television networks, and would require assent of the President of India.
Taking the “no vendetta” line, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh had earlier refused to order a probe on Sidhu’s claims that Fastway evaded taxes running into crores. However, Sidhu was able to prevail upon the cabinet for its nod to The Punjab Entertainments & Amusements Taxes (Levy & Collection by Local Bodies) Bill 2017, to provide a level-playing field to direct-to-home (DTH) players by bringing them on a par with cable TV operators.
“I was told by the chief secretary that some lines in the bill are in conflict with the central act. If it goes to the President, it will get unduly delayed. So my department is working to make amendments to the bill. I will not withdraw it but take it to its logical conclusion,” Sidhu said.
Under the goods and services tax (GST) regime, the right to impose entertainment tax has been wrested with the local bodies department. Earlier it was collected by the excise and taxation department, which is under the CM now and was under Sukhbir in the previous government. Sidhu’s bill proposed to bring down entertainment tax on DTH to Rs 5 a connection, from 10% of subscription fee per connection; impose a levy of Rs 5 per connection on multi-system operators such as Fastway, and Rs 2 per connection on local cable operators.
The motive behind the nominal tax was to bring on record the number of connections under Fastway, which Sidhu says has been “fudging figures to evade taxes despite enjoying monopoly” over cable TV business in Punjab. Sidhu had earlier proposed tax of Rs 50 per cable connection which was not accepted by the CM.
The bill also has political undertones. It was part of Sidhu’s fight against the Badals. His relentless crusade had led to frequent run-ins with bureaucrats of his own department. After DP Reddy, additional chief secretary Satish Chandra was shifted, and more recently KK Yadav fell out of favour and was eased out as secretary of the local bodies department.
Also, now as the Congress gets ready for the December 17 municipal polls, there is more than Fastway and bureaucrats on Sidhu’s plate. The minister during this Monday’s cabinet meeting again sought release of funds for his department saying that the delay was hampering development. His plea to defer the polls from August to December had been to show work on the ground.
Unlike the last assembly session when he made headlines for alleging tax evasion by Fastway, the three-day winter session was action-packed but without any noise from Sidhu. To add to it, Amarinder too has declared to run for another term after earlier having declared he won’t contest any more elections.
Things are not going Sidhu’s way on Fastway and otherwise, for now.