NEW DELHI: So near, yet so far.
When the task force on the conditional access system (CAS) recently wrapped up most of its proceedings by recommending Rs 71.33 as the basic tier of service price, the industry thought the official notification was round the corner. Yesterday, the capital was abuzz with rumours that the notification was on its way.
But that did not happen."An announcement on the final notification of the price of the free to air channels may come by month-end," a government official said, indicating that the price may not be announced in a hurry as the minister is understood to be studying the file.
What had fuelled optimism on the announcement of the price of the basic tier was the fact that the chairman of the government-piloted task force, Rakesh Mohan, a joint secretary in the I&B minister, was to proceed on a study leave for over a month.
"We were expecting that before Mr. Mohan proceeds on leave, the price would be announced so that the industry can go ahead and look into other aspects of CAS," a representative of a multi-system operator (MSO) said.
According to the ministry sources, Mohan is already on leave from yesterday and till he returns, additional secretary (broadcasting) in the ministry Vijay Singh would be dealing with such matters.
The government sources also indicated that there is only a slim chance of any change being brought about in the price of Rs 71.33 recommended by the task force.
Meanwhile, allegations and counter elucidation on CAS continue.
The cable fraternity continues to allege that the broadcasters have managed to keep the price of the basic tier low so as to keep the pay channels within the average monthly outgo of a cable subscriber. To such allegations, the broadcasting fraternity have maintained that it was the task force that has decided on the price and the panel had adequate representation from the cable industry too.
Still, according to reports doing the rounds of the capital, some broadcasters have sought an appointment with the chairman of the Standing (parliamentary) Committee on IT and telecom Somnath Chatterjee on 23 April.
It is also learnt that some top executives of a few broadcasting companies operating in India met in Delhi to finalise the agenda for the meeting with Chatterjee. What transpired in the meeting is not clear.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Chatterjee is an influential politician and his party had opposed in Rajya Sabha (Upper House) the passage of amendments on CAS in the related act without a proper discussion.
It is also being said that in a recent meeting the Standing Committee had questioned the government's move on implementation of CAS without ensuring adequate number of set top boxes in the metros or their easy accessibility to the consumers.
What is beyond comprehension is the fact that though the Standing Committee is a parliamentary body and cannot act on its own on any issue unless the parliament refers an issue to it. If the broadcasters are hoping that the CAS issue would, and should, get referred to the Chatterjee panel, then it can only be done if the Indian parliament decides so. For that to happen, the matter has to be brought up in parliament, which itself is a time-consuming affair.
So, the CAS merry-go round continues.