New Delhi, Aug. 25: The government today rolled back its stand on the Conditional Access System (CAS) for cable television in Delhi, admitted that the set-top box regime was a political hot potato in an election year and set the tone for demands to shelve it in Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.
Cable television subscribers in Delhi will now be required to instal set top boxes to view pay channels only after the elections. No date has been set for the elections as yet. They are due in November.
Information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said CAS will be phased-in in Mumbai and Calcutta and apply throughout Chennai from September 1. This is the second time that implementation of the regime has been deferred.
Prasad was most reluctant despite warnings from Madan Lal Khurana, leading the BJP’s election campaign in Delhi, who feared that “forcing” people to buy set top boxes will boomerang on the BJP just as the shooting price of onions had blown up in the face of the party in the last election. Khurana was afraid that the Congress under Shiela Dixit will use CAS to tarnish the BJP.
The roll back of the set-top box regime in Delhi, scheduled to take off along with the other metros from September 1, was made because “it has become a political issue between competing and conflicting interests,” Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said after a meeting summoned by the Prime Minister.
Agonising over the decision, a soulmate of Prasad said “the information and broadcasting minister has been under tremendous pressure, taking on multinationals, broadcasters and even opposition within his own party.”
The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh, Delhi BJP leaders Madan Lal Khurana and V.K. Malhotra.
In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray is not yet convinced about implementing CAS and has recorded his opposition to it despite Prasad having personally flown down to mollify him.
“We were implementing CAS as a consumer-friendly initiative,” Prasad lamented. “I will be honest with you and tell you that it has unnecessarily become a political issue. But we have agreed to implement it after the elections. I do not believe we are losing credibility. We have not called it off.”
The Delhi BJP chief, on the other hand, was happy with the decision. Emerging from the meeting with a nod and a wide grin to signal he has achieved what he had set out to do, Khurana said: “I am thankful to Vajpayeeji and Advaniji.”
Cable service providers are planning to sue the government for damages because of the investments made in set top boxes.