Tewari in New Delhi on Monday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Nov. 19: Union minister Manish Tewari today advised Mamata Banerjee to “evolve” from “agitator to administrator” and “introspect” about her persistent opposition to the UPA government as he touched on a range of issues from retail FDI to cable TV digitisation.
A Centre-Trinamul face-off looms in Parliament, where the party is gearing to bring a no-confidence motion and attack the government’s decision on foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.
Besides, the Bengal government has unilaterally deferred by five months — in the case of Calcutta — the Centre’s October 31 deadline for cable TV digitisation in the four metros, a subject that concerns Tewari’s ministry of information and broadcasting.
The shift to set-top boxes has gone off more or less smoothly in the other metros. Delhi views Bengal’s move as yet another example of deliberate and needless defiance.
Tewari said he respected Mamata a lot, starting from his Youth Congress days when she was a leader and he a mere worker.
But, he added, there comes a time in every politician’s life when they have to “evolve from a street fighter to a statesman, an agitator to an administrator” and that the Bengal chief minister should “seriously think about it”.
He said that never in the history of India’s Parliament had a party with just 19 Lok Sabha members attempted to move a no-confidence motion against the government.
He asked Mamata and Trinamul to “introspect” on how a government in which their MPs were ministers till three months ago could have suddenly turned evil.
Tewari said one state’s chief minister cannot and should not be allowed to “veto” FDI in multi-brand retail when several other states have welcomed the proposal.
Asked about Bengal’s recalcitrance on digitisation and the possibility of the Centre punishing multi-system operators (MSOs) who continue to provide analogue signals to Calcutta consumers, Tewari said the UPA government “always believes in persuasion”.
He said Delhi had “patiently engaged” with Bengal and “expected” it to “honour the deadlines in their entirety”.
Tewari’s comments might prima facie seem at odds with figures provided by his ministry, which show that 18.57 lakh or 93 per cent of TV sets in Calcutta receive digital signals against the overall four-metro average of 96 per cent. But the ministry knows that the official stats are wrong.
Industry sources in Calcutta said only about 45 per cent of the TVs in the city had actually been digitised.
The Calcutta Metropolitan Area has 42 lakh TV sets, said an industry veteran, but the official count is just about 20 lakh. “That is the reason for the discrepancy.”
The official figures are wrong because many cable operators under-report the number of TVs so they can pay less to the broadcasters — a situation the digitisation move is aimed at correcting.
The Mamata government’s deferred deadline of March 31, 2013, coincides with the Centre’s deadline for digitisation in 38 non-metro cities with populations over one million.
The current demand for set-top boxes in Calcutta is low as people do not expect the deadline to be implemented anytime soon. Some MSOs don’t have enough set-top boxes while some have plenty but no takers.
Calcutta MSOs met today and decided to reply to an enquiry from Tewari’s ministry, sent individually to them, and explain that they were now running both analogue and digital signals “because of the current state of affairs”.
“We shall meet again on Wednesday and set a deadline for ourselves. Many of us will start switching off some channels from the analogue beam so that more people shift to digital,” an MSO official said.
Tewari said his ministry had asked telecom regulator Trai to suggest ways to check monopolies in the cable TV sector.
Ministry secretary Uday Kumar Varma admitted that most of the set-top boxes now available had been imported.
Queried about domestic production, as envisaged when digitisation was planned, he said the medium, small and micro-enterprises ministry had been approached to explore ways to encourage this.