I&B ministry pushes for re-listing of CAS Bill on nest week's RS agenda

NEW DELHI: The information and broadcasting ministry has requested the business advisory panel of the Indian Parliament to re-list the Cable TV Amendment Bill 2002 on the agenda of the Rajya Sabha (Upper house) next week.

According to I&B ministry officials, parliament's business advisory committee has been asked to have the Bill, which will facilitate implementation of conditional access systems (CAS) in the country, on the agenda of business to be discussed in the Rajya Sabha next week.

Now it is to be seen whether the issue comes up in the Upper House next week or other issues like Kashmir and elections there and the Gujarat polls take precedence.

However, government officials also indicated that I&B minister Sushma Swaraj has been unable to hold lengthy discussions with Opposition members as she had said would be done to apprise them fully of the need for CAS.

The Opposition members are not opposed to the concept per se, but are saying that the issue should be discussed in detail before an okay is given. The government had intended to push through the Bill so that the implementation process could start after that.

Last week the Opposition members had taken umbrage to the leaking to the media of details about the talks held between them and the government on the CAS issue.

Briefing a select section of the Press last week, Swaraj had said that there were some "misconceptions" regarding the CAS issue amongst members of Parliament from the Opposition and that she was holding meetings with them to explain the whole issue.

The Opposition members had also taken exception to some statements of the cable operators. The Opposition politician's contention was that they would not be blackmailed and pressurised to take a decision on an issue like CAS, which has generated a lot of heat and dust.

Seeing the way the winds are blowing, the cable industry, which has most at stake in getting the Bill passed, has decided to change course as to its strategy. Realising that there is no getting around the fact that unless the opposition deadlock is resolved there is no way the Bill will clear the Upper House, cable operators met senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee yesterday to try and put across their side of the story.

As far as the Left parties are concerned, they have one principal concern - that post-CAS subscribers will end up paying more for less. The cable ops had a meeting with CPM leaders yesterday in order to try and address the matter. Their point being that there would be different packages for different budgets and the pricing would be such as to cater to different budgets.

Meanwhile, the fragile unity amongst cable operators, which had come to the fore on the face of stiff lobbying from some broadcasters against CAS, has once again been broken. A cable operators body, Cable Operators United Forum, formed very recently, is understood to have been dissolved.

"The Cable Operators United Forum (comprising vocal cable operators having tacit support of MSOs like Siti Cable, Hathaway and INCablenet) as of now does not exist," Roop Sharma, one of the members of the Front told on Tuesday.

However, some other members of the Front insisted that the body is still intact.

But the cable operators have decided on one thing: no more blacking out of channels as was being done in the recent past. Not even a token protest of one-hour blackouts of cable services.

If the Rajya Sabha does not okay the Bill, then another option before the government is to go in for an executive order (Ordinance) after this session of Parliament adjourns sometime mid-August.

But in case of an Ordinance, the government has to convince the President that the issue is of national importance and cannot wait for the Parliament's nod for the next session.

Can the government and Swaraj manage that? Only time can tell.

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