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Monday , February 18 , 2013
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Bullet blackout in Writers’

The babus in Writers’ Buildings saw footage of a man fatally shoot a police officer last Tuesday after the rest of Calcutta did, not because of any political conspiracy but Mamata Banerjee’s decision to keep set-top boxes out of the secretariat.

While the city has long switched to digital television signals, Writers’ still does it the old way, receiving analogue signals from a cable operator.

The result? Information-starved top government officials were making one frantic phone call after the other in the immediate aftermath of the Garden Reach shooting even as the video of the killer shooting Special Branch sub-inspector Tapas Chowdhury was on loop across news channels.

Only three news channels were then available through analogue feed and all of them were merely flashing news about a “college-poll clash”.

“We had heard there was a shooting and that some TV channels were showing footage of the police officer being shot. But we were not getting the footage in the few news channels running here,” said a source in the office of the chief secretary.

For at least an hour after the incident, employees in the offices of the home and chief secretaries had to make do with descriptions about the Garden Reach shocker over the phone.

Some had called up the cable operator to ask for at least one of the two Bengali channels beaming the incident even though it is illegal to do so.

The cable operator did as told and used a device called modulator to convert the digital signal of one of the channels into analogue and beamed it on its network for one-and-a-half hours on Tuesday afternoon, sources said.

That was when all TVs at the state secretariat, including those in the chief and home secretary’s rooms, beamed the footage for the first time.

“It is impossible to work like this. We need to constantly check what’s going on in the state and keep track of developments across the country. But how do you do that with an information blackout? There should be a way out,” a senior bureaucrat said.

Urban development minister Firhad Hakim, who is accused of protecting a prime accused in the Garden Reach incident, Mohammad Iqbal, had been the government’s voice in the anti-digitisation campaign

He had visited Delhi several times to get the digitisation deadline for Calcutta pushed back, warning of a “law and order problem” if analogue signals were switched off.

A day after the Garden Reach incident, Metro found the official chambers of ministers such as Hakim, Partha Chatterjee and Subrata Mukherjee equipped with televisions where all channels are available, proving that the digital blackout at Writers’ has been selective.

The state secretariat has around 65 TVs with analogue feed, which includes three local news channels that were late in running the news of sub-inspector Chowdhury being shot dead.

A solitary set-top box had been procured for the chief minister’s room just before the second deadline for digitisation was to lapse on October 31.

But the set-top box in Mamata’s room has been unplugged since December.

The exception at Writers’ is the police directorate, which procured set-top boxes for 19 TVs from its own budget on February 6.

Several departments have requested the information and cultural affairs secretary to arrange for set-top boxes at the earliest. Some with offices housed outside Writers’ have switched to DTH on their own.

“There is a semblance of autonomy outside Writers’. Many departments located in Salt Lake have got set-top boxes installed on their own,” an official said.