Regulators

Prasad's obstinacy incomprehensible: Nirupam

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MUMBAI: Shiv Sena member of parliament Sanjay Nirupam is of the view that the I&B ministry is under some sort of a compulsion to go-ahead with the implementation of the conditional access system (CAS) in the country.

But when queried about the nature of the pressure, Nirupam retorted: "Please ask the I&B minister (RS Prasad) about these pressures and compulsions."

Nirupam was speaking to indiantelevision.com at Mumbai Rang Sharda auditorium in Bandra where the CODA (Cable Operators and Distributors Association) had organised a meeting of the cable trade with top Sena leaders, including Shiv Sena working president Uddhav Thackeray, present.

Earlier, while addressing the cable operators (a packed house), Nirupam mentioned that this was a historic summit because there were thousands of cable operators listening in two packed auditoriums with others waiting outside for a glimpse of their leaders.

Taking a dig at the discomfiture of the I&B minister, Nirupam said: "Just before the 1 September deadline, the honourable minister invited me for a cup of coffee. He literally started pleading with me to allow CAS rollout in Mumbai for a period of one month. He asked me to convince Balasaheb Thackeray to do so. But, I told him that until Balasaheb's concerns were addressed, CAS will not be allowed in Mumbai. I also added that Balasaheb was not against CAS as a new technology but against the way in which it was being implemented in Mumbai."

"I also questioned the honourable minister as to why he was so adamant about going ahead with CAS despite opposition from all quarters. He had no answer and was evasive," Nirupam said, referring to his a recent meeting with Prasad.

Nirupam was emphatic when he claimed that the only beneficiaries of CAS were a select group of multi-system operators (MSOs) and pay TV broadcasters who had formed a cartel. "Although the ministry had postponed CAS in Delhi due to elections, CAS is not linked to politics. It has a strong connection to economics and to hunger. After all, cable operators have started this industry from scratch without any backing from these people who are dominating the industry today. Many of the cable operators are sons of mill workers who lost their jobs due to strikes in the 1980s."

Claiming to be the first (in Parliament) to have raised the issue of frequent rises in pay TV charges, Nirupam said: "At that time, the then I&B minister Sushmaji Swaraj had given me an assurance that she would look into the matter. She said that she was bringing in CAS to sort out these problems. At that time, we supported CAS in both the houses of parliament. But the way in which the implementation process was carried out has made us oppose the same."

"The prime question is - why is the ministry hesitating to regulate the pay TV channels and concentrating on the free to air channels and cable trade? The FTA channels were already regulated before CAS," added Nirupam.

Referring to the issue of set top boxes (STBs) Nirupam reiterated the arguments made by him during his much acclaimed (at least amongst the cable operators) speech in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) on 6 August 2003. "MSOs are importing boxes from abroad rather than giving a fillip to the indigenous industry. There is huge opportunity if you consider that STBs will be needed for 7 lakh (700,000) cable consumers in the four metros. By reducing the duties by nearly 50 per cent (from 55 per cent to 5 per cent), the government will stand to lose anything between Rs 1,800 -Rs 2,400 crores (Rs 18-24 billion) by way of duties. Moreover, there is a security issue as the intelligence departments of the government will not have access to these proprietary source code STBs imported from abroad. I have information that several companies, including those that are part of IIT colleges, manufacture STBs with open code. Why are they being ignored?" Nirupam questioned during his speech today.

Nirupam also urged the ministry to examine tha larger issues such as pay channels gaining from subscription as well as advertising revenues in India. "Abroad, channels can obtain revenues either from subscription or from advertising. Here, pay channels are getting double revenues and are cribbing inspite of this," said Nirupam, while pointing this out to Sena working president Uddhav Thackeray and CODA committee members.

Praising the efforts of CODA president and Shiv Sena Vibhag Pramukh Anil Parab, Nirupam said: "Parab has played a stellar role in getting the cable operators to rise above individual aspirations; and unite as part of a larger community of cable operators. We have to unite and oppose CAS in its present form."

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