Regulators

Govt role: CAS' fate linked to political compulsions

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The Indian government (read the information and broadcasting ministry) is suddenly finding itself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, which more often than not takes great pleasure in turning red.

Sandwiched between a strident judiciary --- justifiably so in the present circumstances --- and the politics of running a coalition government with vocal allies (who seem to have a view on anything and everything), the Manmohan Singh regime is bound to find it difficult to implement a recent Delhi High Court order that in short says: implement conditional access system in the areas notified earlier by a previous Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition regime over 18 months ago.

State-level elections in April-May would compel the government to give a deep thought to the so-called concerns of regional politicians. And, decision-making gets that much tougher when one of the states going to the polls, West Bengal, is ruled by a Left party, which is also a crucial ally of the federal government in New Delhi.

The I&B ministry hasn't yet held any talks with the various state governments where CAS is sought to be implemented. Nor have any meetings been held with industry stakeholders

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Though the Delhi High Court order exhorts the I&B ministry to rise above regional level party politics and not use 'public interest' to influence an executive order (the notification related to CAS rollout) passed by the federal government, reticent politicians would definitely try to have their own way. Don't forget that the I&B minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi's parliamentary constituency lies in West Bengal and the street-smart politician has cut much of his political teeth in Bengal.

With Kolkata in West Bengal, one of the metros targeted for CAS rollout, already swinging to the election tune, the I&B ministry would have to see how New Delhi's Left-oriented allies react to the issue of CAS or 'watching TV channels via a black box that would cost around Rs 3,000 (approximately $ 67),' as some politicians are explaining addressability to the people.

It can just be that the ministry goes in for an appeal one day ahead of the month-long court-mandated deadline

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Though it hasn't reached a crescendo, already there are murmurs amongst politicians of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), especially the local ones, on how CAS' introduction around election time can be 'disruptive' and have telling effects on the electoral fortunes of the party in West Bengal.

It is pertinent to note that the I&B ministry hasn't yet held any talks with the various state governments where CAS is sought to be implemented. Nor have any meetings been held with industry stakeholders to discuss the issue in the light of the court's observation.

Apart from the West Bengal politicians, those representing the seven constituencies of Delhi in Parliament have already been petitioned by some cable operators on the ground that implementation of CAS might upset cable TV consumers of the National Capital Territory.

With Delhi's aam junta (hoi polloi) totally clueless on what CAS is all about --- apart from what has been fed to them by politicians and the media --- scepticism is bound to run all across on something new, which is not part of the basic infrastructure that is severely lacking here and making daily life that much more worrisome.

And, the Congress-led Delhi government, trying to battle its own intra-party differences on demolition of illegal constructions all over Delhi (as directed by Delhi HC) that has left the denizens of the Capital fuming, the will to immediately implement another court order (on CAS) is definitely lacking.

It would also be interesting to see how New Delhi could read the Delhi court order, which is not as simple as is being made out by many industry stakeholders --- the benefits of CAS or addressability, notwithstanding.

For the I&B ministry to plan a rollout of CAS as per the court order, it has to first revoke an executive order that suspended implementation of CAS.

Now, here is the piece de resistance: the court order is silent on the fact whether addressability should be introduced, as per the prayer of the petitioners, ONLY in the south zones of the metro cities of Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Mumbai in Maharashtra or the whole of the cities.

After revoking an earlier notification, the federal government can stick to CAS' introduction only in the south zones of the metros or interpret the court order as rollout in the whole of the cities. A clarification on the interpretation hasn't been sought yet by the I&B ministry as there is a section that feels an appeal should be made against the present court order.

If the government goes in for an appeal, which can turn out to be time consuming, then the timing of it would also be important. It can just be that the ministry goes in for an appeal one day ahead of the month-long court-mandated deadline.

As things stand today, the government is keeping things fluid --- deliberately so --- to weigh all options, including the biggest challenge: political compulsions.

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