The long-running Pole Tax issue in the cable TV industry has come to the fore again. The distribution arms of the Department of Electricity (Discoms) are sending out arrears notices to cable operators. In fact, the Telangana Chief Minister has given an assurance to abolish Pole Tax, which is yet to be implemented.
The Central Government has given the Right of Way (RoW), the right to use government assets to lay the cables needed for the cable industry. Therefore, no matter what the government assets / structures are, there is no objection to cable laying on them. However, it also gives state governments the option of charging in the form of rent to cover the cost of maintenance, if any.
The cable operators across the country are laying cables on electricity poles and delivering cable transmissions to each household. The Electricity departments of various states have fixed a certain amount of rent per pole per month in the name of pole tax. However, almost 70 per cent of the states have abolished this pole tax. Andhra Pradesh has also recently responded positively to the operators’ request. The cable sector in Andhra Pradesh has also thanked the government in this regard.
As per the pole tax fixed during the period of the combined state, each cable operator has to pay a lump sum of Rs 100 per pole in Hyderabad, Rs 50 in other cities and towns and Rs 30 in villages. Apart from that, the monthly recurring payments are added. Rs.20 per pole in Hyderabad and Rs. 15 per month in other cities and towns. In villages there is a provision to pay at the rate of Rs. This is being continued in the Telangana government.
What did the court say?
It is important to note here that this matter has gone to court in the past. The cable operators objected that the tax would need to be levied again after the merger of all taxes and implementation of the GST policy. The Department of Power changed its mind and said that it was not a tax but a penalty. However, the court said that only those who violate the provisions are to be fined and that there is no violation seen here. At the same time the cable operators also argued that the Right of Way provides them rights.
The Andhra Pradesh cable operators have filed an appeal with the government seeking repeal of the pole tax, pending a final verdict in the matter. In fact, even the cable operators under APSFL, which is run by the Andhra Pradesh government, lay cables on electric poles. Anyhow, the Andhra Pradesh government responded positively. The Cable Industry Welfare Association has also promised to assist in litigation following reports of harassment by electricity officials in some places.
A key role in the Telangana movement
In the case of Telangana, the cable industry played a key role in making the voice of the movement heard throughout the Telangana movement. High priority has been given to programs that convey the need for a separate Telangana. The movement played an extraordinary role in transmitting and mobilizing songs that were easily understood by the people. The cable sector has sided with the movement in keeping the movement alive while some channels were trying to water down the movement. That is why all the activists appreciated the stand of the local cable channels which shouldered the burden of the movement.
That is the reason why the cable industry felt it as their legitimate right to request the government of Telangana for abolition of pole tax, immediately after the formation of the new state. This is not a big deal for the government. Moreover, it amounts to helping the millions of Telangana people who depend on the cable industry for their livelihood. Earlier when the matter was brought to the notice of Chief Minister Shri Chandrasekhara Rao garu, he has responded positively. However, due to non-receipt of official orders, DISCOM officials are now ordering payment including old arrears. The government is required to issue orders to repeal the pole tax in compliance with his assurance.
“Extend support to us”
Sri M. Subhash Reddy, President, Telangana MSOs Federation, appealed to the Government of Telangana to support the cable sector, which plays a key role in providing local information on government schemes from time to time. With a request to recognize the role of the cable industry in creating public consciousness, he appealed to the Chief Minister to fulfill the promise given earlier. He also urged all news channels to focus on the issue and help bring it to the attention of the government. Cable operators who take TV channels’ door-to-door are disperately requesting all to help them since their situation has worsened after digitization.
Sri Subhash Reddy has also called up on the cable operators to hold peaceful rallies in all the Mandal headquarters to the local Electricity offices and submit memorandums to bring the issue to the attention of the government and seek a solution to their problem.