Sidhu raises pitch against ‘cable mafia’ in Punjab, CM Amarinder bats with caution

War over ‘cable mafia’: Departments of excise and taxation, public relations, both under Captain, asked to take necessary action on local government minister’s speech in Punjab assembly on tax evasion by company

punjab Updated: Jul 05, 2017 12:28 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu,“cable mafia”,Badal government
Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. (HT Photo)

Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has declared a war on “cable mafia” by slapping notices for tax evasion on Fastway Transmissions, a company, he claims, enjoyed the patronage of the previous Badal government.

On the last day of the budget session that ended on June 23, Sidhu, while replying to a query raised by Congress MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa in the state assembly, had alleged Fastway did not pay his department (local government) any road-cutting charges for laying its cable in Punjab.

He then went on to detail evasion of other taxes by the multi-system cable operator, pegging the total “scam” at Rs 684 crore, including service tax, entertainment tax, sales tax, unpaid charges for digging of roads for laying cable and charges and interest thereon for using poles of Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) for running the cable.

Since service and sales tax fall under the purview of the excise and taxation department and entertainment tax under department of public relations, both under the CM, Sidhu’s department has written to the CM on June 23 -- a copy of which is with HT -- to take necessary action on the local government minister’s speech.

Though the entire speech of Sidhu has been annexed to the letter with details of the tax evasion, Amarinder in his recent interactions with the media, has feigned ignorance about Sidhu’s allegations, saying he will ask secretary, local government, for the details.

Sidhu has also written to power minister Rana Gurjit Singh on dues “not paid” by Fastway for using poles of the power corporation for running the cable network and his local government department on unpaid road cutting charges.

On letter to CM, Sidhu said he has written to him as the excise and taxation and public relations departments fall under him. “I sent the letters on the day of my speech (June 23) in the state assembly. A deliberate mechanism was working to support Fastway. It is not Sidhu’s fight against cable mafia but Punjab’s fight against the cable mafia. The company has evaded central taxes running into crores for which it was issued several recovery notices. They have also robbed the central government of their taxes not just Punjab,” he said.

He said he had spoken to the CM on the issue before his assembly speech and has not been able to discuss it after it. “Me and the CM are on the same page on the issue. He has not interfered in my department nor has he encroached upon my line of duty,” Sidhu told HT.

Amarinder, during a press conference on Tuesday, evaded a direct reply to questions on Sidhu’s allegations against Fastway. Instead, he deflected the issue of Fastway’s “monopoly” over Punjab’s cable network to that of Badal-run PTC Channel saying his government has ended censorship over television channels and many new ones have entered the fray and PTC is “crying hoarse” over it.

But Congress sources claim it is the growing resentment among party MLAs over the government “not going after the business interests of the Badals” that forced Sidhu’s hand. “The CM is inaccessible even to Congress MLAs while Sidhu is going out of the way to take up our issues, including civic problems in our constituency. The CM does not seem to be comfortable with his growing popularity among MLAs,” a senior MLA said, requesting anonymity.

Sidhu’s charge-sheet against Fastway

• Rs 25 lakh capital, profit Rs 30 crore in first year

• Created monopoly by intimidating cable operators

• It rendered over 1 lakh youth jobless

• Nearly 8,000 cable operators in Punjab, it shows just 1,500 operators on its logbooks

• Nearly a crore television connections in Punjab but it shows just 1.25 lakh on its books

• It bullied Reliance, to lay its cable for free

First Published: Jul 05, 2017 09:34 IST