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I&B Ministry to move Supreme Court to club all DAS cases into one

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NEW DELHI: The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry will be moving the Supreme Court to club the various orders in different High Courts, which ordered extension of Phase III of the Digital Addressable System (DAS) beyond 31 December, 2015.

I&B Ministry Secretary Sunil Arora confirmed to Indiantelevision.com that the apex court would be moved in this connection within the next few days.

However, it was not immediately clear whether this would be a fresh appeal, or – as was reported by this website on 7 January – it would be in the form of an appeal against one of the High Court orders with an additional request that since other matters are similar they also be heard at the same time.

This decision came as a disappointment to many multi system operators (MSOs) in other states who said they would find it very difficult to come to Delhi to fight the case or pay the high fee charges by Supreme Court advocates for this purpose.

Several rounds of discussions have been held internally as well as with the officials of the Law Ministry and legal experts over the past few days before coming to this decision, to thwart the snowballing effect of the orders that commenced from Hyderabad and found a boost in the arguments in the Bombay High Court based on the Kusum Ingots case of 2004, which encouraged MSOs and local cable operators (LCOs) in other states.

At present, the implementation remains stayed for varying periods in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Orissa, Sikkim, and Telangana, apart from Tamil Nadu where prolonged legal cases have been pending since Phase I.

There was also general consensus that this was the right course as the apex court had on an earlier occasion relating to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and orders issued thereunder that High Courts have to be cautious when giving orders on matters relating to policy.  

At the same time, Ministry officials said that while obeying the directives of the various High Courts, which had extended the DAS deadline by various periods ranging between eight to 12 weeks, it would prepare to oppose the decisions.

A senior Ministry official also said it was working on how plans to thwart the implementation of Phase III could be prevented – if necessary through legislative processes.

The official also expressed the view that the cases would in fact work against the last mile operator and benefit the direct to home (DTH) and Headend In the Sky (HITS) players.

Sources said they had evidence to show seeding of set top boxes (STBs) to the extent of 76 per cent as revealed in the 13th Task Force meeting on 30 December. 

Meanwhile as earlier reported, legal opinion is divided on whether the Kusum Ingots case, which was referred to in the Bombay High Court could be used by a High Court to direct a pan-India stay.

The broadcasters and channel distributors feel any extension would only lead to delays in all fields of digitisation including a further delay in not just the Phase III and Phase IV (slated for December 2016) but also pockets of Phase I and II, which have still not implemented digital addressable systems.

At the same time, the stakeholders agree that there is a shortage of STBs and just one or two players are making local boxes despite the ‘Make in India’ campaign, and the government had to be make some relaxations in the budget in this regard.

With the I&B Ministry now taking the matter to the Supreme Court, the developments ahead will be keenly watched by all stakeholders.

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