The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Centre puts CAS in state court
- Delhi distances itself from implementation of new system

New Delhi, Aug. 30: The Centre has lobbed the ball on implementing the conditional access system for cable television to the states. Acting on the views of the Bengal government, the Union information and broadcasting ministry has decided that for the next few weeks, it would distance itself from the implementation of the system and allow “the situation to settle”.

Highly-placed sources said though set-top boxes will be mandatory to view pay channels on cable television in select zones in Calcutta and Mumbai and in all of Chennai, the ministry will not immediately press for prosecution of cable operators who bypass the system.

Asked whether CAS would be implemented from Monday, Union information and broadcasting ministry officials invariably qualify their answer with “as of now”. “As of now, the answer is yes.” But bitter wranglings in the cable television industry have put a question mark on whether the regime will indeed roll out.

“As of now, neither the information and broadcasting minister, nor the Prime Minister or the deputy Prime Minister has issued instructions to defer CAS,” the sources said.

The ministry “will wait and watch the situation for 10-15 days”. An assessment on the offtake of set-top boxes would be made after two weeks.

In Calcutta, ministry officials said, “the preparations for CAS are the best among all the metros”. They concede that when the CAS-enabling provision was made in the cable television act, the concurrence of states was not taken. Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has taken exception to this.

The strategy the information and broadcasting ministry will take is to overlook bypassing of the law in the initial weeks.

“However, once the law is mandated, there are more actors who come into play. So we cannot hold a brief on what police in the states will or will not do,” the sources said.

Following the views of the Bengal government, the ministry is now working on adding another provision in the law that will vest the responsibility of implementing CAS with the states. Broadcasting is a central subject but law and order is a state subject.

According to the rules, distribution of pay channels without set- top boxes by cable operators would be illegal in the CAS-notified zones (south Calcutta, south Mumbai and all of Chennai). At least 30 free-to-air channels have to be distributed at the rate of Rs 72 (plus entertainment and service taxes) from September 1 onwards. Set-top boxes will not be needed to view pay channels.

“Since law and order is a state subject, enforcing the law would be the responsibility of state governments,” the sources said.

Reacting to Delhi’s stand on CAS, Tarak Saha, spokesman for the Cable Operators’ Sangram Committee, said: “It’s nothing but a face saver for them. The confusion at the ground level has increased. Both cable operators and viewers in Zone I are calling us to know what will happen after September 1. But we don’t have any answer.”

Zone I comprises 45 localities in south-west Calcutta, including Behala, Alipore, Garden Reach, Kidderpore, Chetla, New Alipore, Hastings, Budge Budge and Tollygunge Circular Road.

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