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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK

World: South Asia

Poll body challenges telecoms plans

Direct satellite broadcasting plans are now on hold

India's autonomous Election Commission has challenged two controversial decisions made by the government involving satellite broadcasting and telecom policy.

The BBC's Daniel Lak in Delhi reports on the Election Commission's move
The commission has rejected a government order to allow state television - Doordarshan - to exclusively operate direct-to-home (DTH) satellite broadcasts.

At the same time, it has asked the government for more information on a decision to restructure fees paid by mobile phone operators to the government.

Under a new telecommunications policy announced by the government in March, license fees were banished and replaced by a revenue-sharing agreement with the government.

The move has come under heavy criticism from the opposition, but has been welcomed by private mobile phone operators.

Major policy decisions

Both decisions had sparked a row in India, with President K R Narayanan indicating that major decisions such as telecom policy should wait until a new government is voted in after the September general elections.

[ image: Election Commissioner M S Gill: Eyes on the government]
Election Commissioner M S Gill: Eyes on the government
DTH broadcasting has been widely debated in India and is seen as a lucrative opportunity for Doordarshan, which is already the dominant broadcaster on terrestrial television.

But the Election Commission held that a major policy decision such as this one should be debated in parliament.

"The commission is aware that this matter has been raised in different forums for a long time and there are different perceptions of the matter by various interested parties," the Economic Times newspaper quoted the commission as saying.

Telecom row

The government formally approached private mobile phone operators last week, offering them the option to shift from a fixed license fee regime to a revenue sharing deal.

It is a move that has pleased the operators who said the earlier fees were exorbitant.

[ image: Key decisions will have to wait till after the polls]
Key decisions will have to wait till after the polls
But as a result, the government stands to lose money - a fact which has led opposition politicians to allege that kickbacks must have been paid for the deal to go through.

The Election Commission has asked for details of the package to be made available to it.

"The commission has asked the cabinet secretary to urgently send a full and comprehensive factual report giving details of the case and its current status," it announced.

Code of conduct

Under an election code of conduct, the commission can review any government decision taken after poll dates are officially announced.

They can also prevent the implementation of any decision they regard as politically sensitive or influential on poll results.

The government argued the decisions they have announced are mere extensions of policy decisions approved before the government lost its ruling majority in April.

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