Allahabad HC reaffirms I&B ministry role in case of STB non-availability

NEW DELHI: The Allahabad high court has clarified that that the information and broadcasting ministry has been mandated under the Cable TV Networks Rules 1994 to make interim arrangements if any subscriber complains he has not been able to get a set top box from his cable operator.

A division bench of justice Uma Nath Singh and justice Satish Chandra while dealing with a case recently, quoted from an earlier judgment in this regard to say that the rules drawn up by the ministry were clear on this issue.

(For the consumers, this judgment implies that they are free to approach the ministry in the event of the multi-system operator or the local cable operator not fulfilling the mandate of supplying the STB. The ministry has already set up a toll free number and complaints from consumers or LCOs relating to STBs or other aspects relating to digitisation are already being passed on to the concerned MSO, I and B minister Manish Tewari told the Parliament yesterday.)

The court dismissed as without merit a petition by the Uttar Pradesh Cable Operators Welfare Association through its president Anil Upadhyay.

In its petition, the association had sought extension of time as it said that there was shortage of digital set top boxes even as it fully supported digital access systems. It was stated that in UP, the STBs are not available in sufficient quantity, as it is an imported item mainly from China. There is no workshop in the state for repair of the set top boxes.

In his arguments, additional solicitor general of India K C Kaushik said that digitisation was almost complete in UP as 100 per cent work has already been done in the Districts - Ghaziabad, Meerut, Varanasi and Allahabad - and 82 to 86 per cent work had already been done in the cities of Kanpur, Lucknow and Agra up to 14 April.

Interestingly, the court in its judgment said ?the set top box is not compulsory but is an option for the consumer, who wants to avail the better signals or selected channels. Further for providing better (digital) signals, there are many service providers, other than the petitioners, like DTH.?

While dismissing the case for extension of time, the court referred to another judgment of the Court in a related case by the Lucknow Metro Cable Operators Association wherein that court had said ?Rule 13 (5) of the Rules contains a provision that in the event of failure of the concerned operator to supply and install a Set Top Box, the respondent (information and broadcasting ministry) may, in order to protect the interest of subscribers, take interim measure to ensure supply of signals. Under Rule 14, the ministry has been empowered to resolve dispute of various kinds including arrangements for handling complaints and redressal of grievances of the subscribers. The authority may also look into the efficacy of such arrangements and issue necessary directions to the concerned parties for compliance.?

That order had also pointed out that it was clear that all consumers were not aware of digitisation. ?It is natural that everybody may not be aware whether there has been proper public awareness campaign about DAS scheme or not, and whether supply and installation of set top box has been carried out as required by Rule 13 of the Rules?, that order had said.

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