CAS will give govt unparalleled powers, says survey

NEW DELHI: Not only is the Cable TV (Networks) Regulation Bill, 2002, which is supposed to be discussed in Rajya Sabha during this session of Indian Parliament, at variance with the Task Force on CAS recommendations, but it also gives powers to the Indian government which are unparalleled in the whole of Asia, according to a recent survey.

The survey was conducted by seeking responses from lawyers from a number of Asian countries.

Take, for example, the pricing of the basic tier of free to air (FTA) channels. This is to be determined by the Indian government. The survey, a copy of which is available with, points out that nowhere does the government control prices anywhere in Asia, except in China and Taiwan.

In China too, price control is done at the local level of governance unlike what is being proposed in India where the price control will be effected through a Central legislation which will make amendments to the proposed law in this fast changing industry very difficult and time consuming.

The findings of the survey are being circulated amongst Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) members to highlight the shortcomings in the proposed laws relating to conditional access system (CAS).

Though the business advisory committee of Parliament had listed the CAS Bill on the agenda of the Rajya Sabha (RS), it could not be taken up as both Houses of Parliament were adjourned on Monday due to the Presidential elections. The CATV Amendment Bill is now supposed to be put up in RS for discussion next Monday. Lok Sabha (Lower House) has already okayed the amendments to the Act which seeks to facilitate implementation of CAS.

The survey also points out that in no Asian country are set-top boxes (STBs) mandated through a central legislation. In Singapore, for instance, where the use of STBs is wide-ranging and the maximum percentagewise amongst Asian countries, only newer and digital channels come through STBs, while people having older TV sets continue to access satellite channels without a STB.

Though the I&B ministry-constituted Task Force recommended that DD channels must be carried as part of a "must carry" clause, what the government has gone ahead and done is to take the power to decide what will be the composition of the basic tier of FTA channels. This amounts to a form of censorship, the survey concludes.

The survey compares clause by clause what had been recommended by the Task Force and what finally went into the Bill, which is awaiting Parliament's nod to be enacted into a Central law. It also compares the proposed changes being sought to be brought about in India with similar laws existing elsewhere in Asia.

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