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Centre-state clash over CAS

New Delhi/Calcutta, Sept. 1: The Centre has challenged Bengal’s authority to defer the debut of the conditional access system (CAS) for cable television, but kept quiet on Mumbai where, too, it has not taken off.

At a meeting yesterday, Calcutta police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty requested multi-system operators (MSOs) RPG Netcom and SitiCable to put CAS on hold for 72 hours.

In Mumbai, the pressure not to introduce CAS, on the contrary, is completely covert. “Unless CAS is implemented in Delhi and unless Balasahebji (Bal Thackeray) says so, it will not be implemented in Mumbai,” said Anil Parab, Shiv Sena leader and spokesman for cable operators.

Thackeray is officially not in power in Mumbai. In Calcutta, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is.

But when Vijay Singh, the additional secretary in the Union information and broadcasting ministry, rejected Bengal’s plea to review the implementation of CAS and questioned the state government’s authority to order deferment, not for once did he mention Mumbai.

“Broadcasting is a central subject. State governments do not have the authority to disrupt the implementation of CAS,” Singh said.

CAS has been mandated by a central fiat but its execution is effectively left to state governments and the industry. The I&B ministry accepts that it had erred by not taking concurrence of state governments when the cable networks bill was amended last year to bring in CAS.

Under CAS, subscribers in Calcutta have to pay Rs 226 (excluding the cost of the set-top box) for a package of free-to-air and pay channels.

The ministry still believes that Calcutta and Chennai are better placed to roll out the system than Mumbai. Singh today phoned the Calcutta police commissioner to tell him he had no authority to seek postponement.

Chakraborty had made the request for the ostensible reason that certain issues — related to enforcement of the system and how violations are to be treated — had to be cleared up first.

Operators are required to switch off pay channel signals and route them only through set-top boxes to subscribers. They are liable to be prosecuted if they charge more than Rs 72 (plus taxes) for free-to-air channels, distribute less than at least 30 free-to-air channels and/or distribute pay channel signals bypassing set-top boxes.

Chakraborty is understood to have also said the Bengal government has no intention to stop CAS but has only sought time to brief administration officials. A meeting is scheduled tomorrow.

It was not clear, though, whether Bengal’s objections are administrative or political. The chief minister said: “The Centre is experimenting with the system on the Bengal government.”

By deciding to put CAS on hold in Delhi because of the coming Assembly polls, the Centre has opened itself to the charge.

 

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