Star-crossed in India

Gov't asks satcaster CEO to step down

BOMBAY — In a sign of just how jittery the current Indian government is concerning foreign penetration of its broadcast skies, the authorities have asked Star TV CEO Rathikant Basu for his resignation.

Government officials said Basu had violated rules by joining the local subsidiary of Star immediately after seeking voluntary retirement from government service a year ago.

The government contends there must be a two-year gap before such a high-profile civil servant takes another job — or that permission to do so from the authorities must be sought.

Basu supporters maintain that he voluntarily gave up his pension and benefit rights to work for the Rupert Murdoch-owned company, and that in return he was free to take up the new job.

“I have received certain documents,” Basu said, referring to the papers received from the government.

A separate letter from government officials to Star TV last week asked that Basu be relieved of his duties within 15 days of receiving the communication. But there is every indication the Basu matter will end up in court.

Basu’s lawyer, Raian Karanjawala, has been dismissive of the government’s claim. He maintains that because Basu had not applied for a government pension and has indicated he would not do so in the future, he was within his rights to take up other employment.

The government clearly feels that Basu’s holding of key jobs in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting made him privy to sensitive information — and that he might pass such info on to “foreign” entities.

Basu may not be alone. A dozen other Star execs, lured in the past year by Basu from government service to the satcaster, are in danger of having the official rule book thrown at them, too.

The government action is being viewed here as a further effort to thwart Star in its efforts to bring direct-to-home satellite broadcasting to India.

The satcaster had been hoping to finally obtain a license to broadcast DTH this year, but now the government’s move against Basu has clouded those prospects.

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