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Bengal no to CAS stumps Centre

New Delhi, Sept. 4: The Centre is unsure how to respond after the Bengal government said it was in “no hurry” to implement the conditional access system for cable television.

An information and broadcasting ministry official admitted: “There is a status quo. We really don’t know yet what to do. This was not intended to be a Centre-state issue.”

The Bengal government’s stand, the fear of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai and Chennai’s less-than-lukewarm response has ensured that CAS, touted by the Centre as a “consumer-friendly initiative”, is in tatters within four days of its launch.

But ministry sources say CAS will not be rolled back. Policy makers do not like the term “rollback”. In any case, it is difficult to roll back what is falling to pieces.

Sources at the I&B ministry said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had told them he was “in no hurry” to respond to the message sent by the Centre on Monday, when CAS was to take off in Calcutta.

The Centre asked why Calcutta police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty had asked multi-system operators (MSOs) RPG Netcom and SitiCable last Sunday to put CAS on hold.

Writers’ Buildings has also told the ministry it is “curious” why Delhi was allowed to push back CAS when the set-top box regime was meant to be launched in all four metros simultaneously.

Ministry officials offered to meet their counterparts in Bengal, only to be told the government was not interested in discussing the issue as a one-on-one. Instead, it said the Centre should organise a meeting with Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, where CAS was to have been implemented.

Officials said they are waiting for I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to return from the Venice film festival before taking any further steps.

Industry sources said Sena leader Bal Thackeray will meet cable operators in Mumbai on Sunday and is likely to ask them to ignore CAS.

But MSO Hathway has negotiated rates with broadcasters and says it is ready to roll out CAS. MSOs are urging the ministry to prevail on the Sena not to oppose the set-top box regime.

Ironically, the Centre’s CAS plan is being by opposed by the Sena, a political ally, while the Congress-ruled Maharashtra government is tacitly in favour of set-top boxes.

In Chennai, the only place where CAS has rolled out, the off-take of set-top boxes that decode pay-channel signals has reduced to a trickle. This follows rumours that regional language pay channels are planning to become free-to-air, for which boxes are not needed.

Ministry officials are also aware that cable television viewers in Chennai feel they have been made guinea pigs for the CAS experiment. An official is expected to head there shortly.

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