West Bengal Govt reiterates demand for extension of digitisation deadline

MUMBAI: Marred by unavailability of set-top boxes and the looming Durga Pooja festival, the West Bengal government has reiterated its demand of extending the deadline for digitisation of cable television.

West Bengal Urban Development Minister Firad Hakim accused the central government of pressurising the state government on the issue of digitisation and cautioned that there could be law and order problem in the state if the government sticks to digitisation deadline.

“The Centre, which put pressure on us to accept the decision on FDI in multi-brand retail trade, is now mounting pressure on us regarding the digitisation issue,” Hakim said.

According to Hakim, the state government had on 29 September written to the centre urging it to have a relook at the digitisation deadline. However, the central government is yet to respond to the letter.
“There could be law and order problem. But the Centre has not yet responded to our letter. The chief secretary will contact the Centre again on the issue,” he added.

It needs to be noted here that West Bengal chief minister Mamata Bannerjee had in her rally in New Delhi termed the government anti-poor for burdening them with an unnecessary cost of set-top boxes (STBs).

The state government has been pushing for extension in deadline since many MSOs are not ready due to unavailability of STBs and the festive season when a lot of people in the city go on holiday to their native place to celebrate Durga Pooja.

It is the festive season that also has the MSOs worried since they will also face a shortfall of manpower for installing STBs.

Siti Cable Kolkata Director Suresh Sethia, however, asserted that the MSO was fully geared up for digitisation. He also said that the industry has factored in 10-15 days of crisis period post digitisation.

Sethia, though, expressed solidarity with the state government saying that it was concerned about the fallout of digitisation process in case a large number of homes go dark and the festive season when the deployment of STBs is expected to slow down.

“The state government had recently held a meeting with the MSOs and LCOs wherein we discussed the situation in Kolkata. We will get a clear picture in the next few days when the state government officials meet with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” Sethia said.

Sethia also said that the state government needs to come up with a clear time frame when it expects to complete the digitisation process if it gets extended.

A senior executive from a leading MSO said that the state government is not willing to take any chances since it will lead to law and order problems. The official said that the state government has done its own which reveals that only 30-35 per cent of homes have been digitised.

This is a far cry from what the MIB recently stated that 73 per cent homes in Kolkata have been digitised.

“The set-top boxes are not available since there is problem of delivery from China. Many MSOs have booked STBs but are waiting for 2-3 months for the delivery. The government should have created domestic manufacturing units for supply of STBs to avoid this situation,” the executive said.

He also said that at least 50 per cent of people in the city go out on holidays which will mean that a lot of homes will remain locked. There would also be a shortage of manpower during Durga Puja due to exodus of workers to their hometowns.

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