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EC no to FM deadline extension

06-May-2004
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EC no to FM deadline extension

The Election Commission sees violation of the electoral code of conduct in extending the deadline for payment of FM radio licence fee. The FM radio matter was taken up by the EC on Wednesday, when the I&B ministry referred it to the election watchdog, a Commission official told FE.

With the final phase of elections still to go, even the Cabinet Secretariat is focusing on the code of conduct now. The Secretariat’s view is similar to that of the EC, government sources told FE.

Although the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had recommended that the fee deadline could be deferred till such date that a new policy is framed, the Cabinet Secretariat differs on the issue.

The Trai recommendation cannot be acted upon at this point, and only the Union Cabinet can take a decision on extending the deadline, once the new government comes into power, the Secretariat has indicated.

Any extension of deadline would be a violation of the Prime Minister’s directive on the electoral code of conduct, sources said.

So, it’s bad news for private FM players, including Entertainment Network India Ltd, Music Broadcast Pvt Ltd, Radio Mid-day and Radio Today, who were hoping for a waiver till softer rules come into being.

At least two FM operators moved court to seek an injunction preventing government from encashing their bank guarantee. But, the FM players hardly got any reprieve.

According to the Mumbai High Court interim order last week, in the Entertainment Network India Ltd (ENIL) case, the government can encash bank guarantees but cannot cancel the licence of a defaulter. Even the seven-day grace period for the payment of annual licence fee comes to an end on Thursday.

Earlier, finance minister Jaswant Singh had refused to play referee over the FM radio licence issue. I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had sought the finance minister’s guidance on the issue, but Mr Singh had tossed the matter back to Mr Prasad.

Private FM players across the metros owe the government over Rs 100 crore as this year’s licence fee.

The deadline expired on April 29, with none of the players coughing up a penny.

A committee headed by Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra recommended a migration package for the players, from a licence fee to a revenue-sharing regime, among other softer norms. The recommendations came in November 2003.

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