Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley has written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh requesting him to clarify why his Ministry had rejected security clearance to Kalanithi Maran-promoted Sun TV Network’s group companies that operate 45 radio channels under the brand name Suryan FM in Tamil Nadu and Red FM in rest of the country.
Kalanithi is the brother of Dayanidhi Maran and son of former Union Commerce and Industry Minister, the late Murasoli Maran.
The issue of security clearance came up last month when the company, through its four subsidiaries, had to give its consent for “migration” (renewal of licence) of its radio channels from Phase II to Phase III — this allows for more channels in the same bandwidth. The renewal requires fresh security clearances from the Home Ministry.
Jaitley is said to have asked Singh to review his Ministry’s decision.
When contacted, I&B Secretary Bimal Julka confirmed that the security clearance to Sun TV Network’s companies was rejected. Asked if the Home Ministry had communicated the reasons for the rejection, Julka told The Indian Express: “I have now written to the Home Secretary to expedite a response to I&B Minister’s letter.” The Home Ministry’s reply is crucial since the I&B ministry would have to cancel the licence if the decision isn’t revoked.
In this context, I&B officials reminded the Home Ministry about the embarrassment they faced after the Madras High Court struck down I&B’s order canceling the licence of multi-system operator Kal Cables on September 5, 2014.
The licence of the TV channel distribution company Kal Cable, owned again by the Maran family, was cancelled by the I&B ministry following security clearance rejection by the Home Ministry.
Despite calls to his office and cell and text messages on the subject, Home Secretary L C Goyal did not respond.
Sources said Goyal met Jaitley recently on the issue. It is learnt that the Home Ministry has conveyed to the I&B ministry that security clearance was denied because of the ongoing CBI case against the Marans on the Aircel-Maxis deal. The I&B Ministry is learnt to have countered that both these issues were distinct and should not be linked.
The Union Cabinet had approved the I&B ministry’s proposal for Phase III auction of FM channels on January 16 this year. The I&B ministry received 28 applications for e-auction of 135 private FM channels in 69 existing cities of Phase II in the first batch of Phase III by March 27. Of these, 15 companies, including those from the Sun TV Network, already hold licences under Phase II. The 28 companies cumulatively deposited about Rs 316.91 crore as earnest money.
Under Phase III of FM auction, each city will get more FM channels, and operators who successfully bid under Phase I in 1999 and Phase II in 2005 will be charged a migration fee. They will also be given a licence to operate for 15 years compared with 10 years allowed under Phase II.
Sources said the process of Phase III FM auction has been held up due to delays in grant of security clearances by the Home Ministry — the clearance process has been completed in only three cases.