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MHA decides to abolish security clearance requirement for MSOs

MUMBAI: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has decided to do away with the requirement of national security clearance for multi-system operators (MSOs) as part of its new policy guidelines aimed at facilitating ease of doing business and promoting investment in the country.

The MHA had recently streamlined/relaxed national security clearance norms for certain sensitive sectors of the economy including the media sector, Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha today.

Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary

Haribhai Chaudhary

“The new policy guidelines are aimed at bringing about a healthy balance between meeting the imperatives of national security and facilitating the ease of doing business and promoting investment in the country,” he said.

He further added, “These guidelines also include the proposal to do away with national security clearance for MSOs in the media sector.”

According to multiple sources, the security clearance issue in case of Kalanithi Maran-owned Kal Cables and Jagjit Singh-promoted Digicable generated a lot of debate and differences between the MHA and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB). “There was a lot of correspondence between the two ministries,” the sources said.

Jagjit Singh Kohli

Jagjit Singh Kohli

Welcoming the MHA decision, Digicable MD & CEO Kohli said, “If true, this is the right decision taken by the government. MSOs are just delivery platforms of content. It has been a long-time argument that MSOs merely rebroadcast content and accountability should be with the broadcasters. Security clearance was an unnecessary hurdle for the MSOs. In case of broadcasters, there is a need as they are producing and dealing with content.”

Agreed Intermedia Cable Communication (ICC) CEO and director Ejaz Inamdar. “We have been in this business for the last 25 years. What is the need to have security clearance for MSOs? This business does not jeopardise the security of the country in any way.”

The MHA had earlier indicated that it wanted to do away with the process of giving security clearance to MSOs. However, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), which grants licences to the MSOs, is opposed to the idea.

The MHA’s reasoning was that giving security clearance to MSOs is like vetting a real estate company and doing away with security clearance requirement for MSOs will enhance the “ease of doing business”.

The aim of giving security clearance was to prevent inflow of dirty money in the cable TV business. But it was felt that this should be taken up by tax authorities or the Enforcement Directorate.

Ejaz Inamdar

Ejaz Inamdar

The MIB has so far cancelled licences of 30 MSOs due to denial of security clearance by the MHA. These include prominent MSOs like Digicable, Kal Cables, Pune-based Intermedia Cable Communication (ICC), and recently Mumbai-based You Scod18.

In June, the MIB had reverted to providing provisional registrations for digital addressable system (DAS) areas as security clearance from the MHA for permanent registration was consuming too much time. The MIB had earlier decided to issue only permanent registrations to MSOs to avoid uncertainty associated with provisional registrations.

The MIB has so far received an estimated 850 applications for MSO registration. It has given 226 permanent and 93 provisional registrations as on 22 July.

With the 31 December deadline for DAS Phase III approaching fast and the MHA not being able to handle a sudden increase in the number of MSO applications, the MIB thought it was best to go back to the provisional mode considering the paucity of time.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for I&B Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has said in the Rajya Sabha that security clearance is a prerequisite for grant of permission to run TV channels. In cases where security clearance is denied or withdrawn, action is taken to cancel permission, he added.

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