A public interest litigation demanding a stay on the digitisation of cable television till each home in Calcutta has a set-top box was accepted for hearing by the high court on Wednesday.
This comes at a time when the sale of these boxes has slowed down to a trickle even as the city misses one digitisation deadline after another and the chief minister champions the cause of the analogue signal.
The PIL, which also demands uniform prices of set-top boxes across the city, was accepted by acting Chief Justice Pratap Roy and would come up for hearing next week.
If Tapan Nag, who filed the PIL in the high court and his advocate Udayshankar Chatterjee have their way and get a stay, the process would be further slowed down like it has happened in Chennai.
The Madras High Court had stayed digitisation till Wednesday and the matter would come up for hearing on Thursday.
“The sale of set-top boxes is very slack at the moment. Subscribers in Calcutta are not taking the deadlines seriously any more as analogue signals are still beamed by the MSOs,” said a cable industry insider.
The last deadline for multi-system operators to switch off analogue and beam only digital signals — decodable at the subscriber’s end only with a set-top box — was October 31.
Amid protests from cable operators against the switchover, the Mamata Banerjee government convened a meeting of the MSOs to ensure that cable homes without set-top boxes continue getting the analogue signal. This all but stopped the sale of set-top boxes in Calcutta. In the absence of any interference from the state government, cable homes in Delhi and Mumbai have already gone digital.
And now, a legal front is opening up in the set-top-box saga. “The entire process is being done in an illegal manner by the cable operators and broadcasters. According to the act, till the optical fibre system is introduced, viewers cannot be asked to take set-top boxes,” said advocate Chatterjee. He claimed that the new system has not been introduced in many parts of Calcutta.
Chatterjee claimed that cable operators of different areas were demanding different prices for the set-top box and demanded fresh guidelines to ensure uniformity. He urged the court to pass an order restraining cable operators from forcing consumers to fix set-top boxes. “Till each and every citizen owns a set-top box, the government should allow the beaming of analogue signals,” the petitioner said.
The division bench asked Chatterjee to serve notices upon the respondents — the state government, associations representing cable operators and the Union I&B ministry — and fixed the hearing for next week.