Cable TV

I&B Ministry awaits Law Ministry's opinion on DAS Phase III stay orders

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NEW DELHI: Even as High Courts across different Indian states continue to issue extension of the Digital Addressable System (DAS) Phase III deadline beyond 31 December, 2015, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is still waiting for the Law Ministry to respond to the file on the issue.

However, as was first reported by Indiantelevision.com, I&B Secretary Sunil Arora had confirmed that the Ministry will move the Supreme Court and file an application for clubbing the various orders in different High Courts, which ordered an extension of the deadline.

That said, it was not immediately clear whether this would be a fresh appeal, or would be in the form of an appeal against one of the High Court orders with an additional request that since other matters are similar, they could also be heard at the same time.

This decision came as a disappointment to many multi system operators (MSOs) in other states who said that they would find it very difficult to come to Delhi to fight the case or pay the high fee charges by Supreme Court advocates for this purpose.

Several rounds of discussions have been held internally as well as with officials of the Law Ministry and legal experts over the past few days before coming to this decision, to thwart the snowballing effect of the orders that commenced from Hyderabad and found a boost in the arguments in the Bombay High Court based on the Kusum Ingots case of 2004, which encouraged MSOs and local cable operators (LCOs) in other states.

While the Kerala and Karnataka High Courts are to hear petitions early next week, the implementation remains stayed for varying periods in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Sikkim, and Telangana, apart from Tamil Nadu where prolonged legal cases have been pending since Phase I.

Adding to its woes, I&B Minister Arun Jaitley has received a letter from the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu seeking a six-month extension for the 800+ MSOs and 9000+ LCOs across 13 districts serving 1.3 million households in the state. 

Reacting to this, an official of the I&B Ministry said that these High Courts orders would have no effect on the Government decision to stick to its date of 31 December, 2015 and it had asked broadcasters and MSOs to switch off analogue signals in all areas covered under Phase III, which was aimed at the remaining urban areas except where certain states sought exemption.

The official also said that the Courts were generally following the logic given before the Bombay High Court whereby the Supreme Court had said in the Kusum Ingots case that if one High Court gives an order, others can give similar orders if the circumstances are similar. In this case, the petitioners had sought to say in all the cases that there was a shortage of set top boxes (STBs), which belied the figures received by the Government, the official added.

There was also general consensus in the Ministry that this was the right course as the apex court had on an earlier occasion relating to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and orders issued thereunder that High Courts have to be cautious when giving orders on matters relating to policy.  

While the Ministry would prepare to file its counters in all the High Courts, the Ministry official also said it was working on how plans to thwart the implementation of Phase III could be prevented – if necessary through legislative processes.

The Government feels that the cases would in fact work against the last mile operator (LMO) and benefit the direct to home (DTH) and Headend In the Sky (HITS) players.

Sources said that they had evidence to show seeding of STBs to the extent of 76 per cent as revealed in the 13th Task Force meeting on 30 December. 

Broadcasters and channel distributors feel any extension would only lead to delays in all fields of digitisation including a further delay in not just the Phase III and Phase IV (slated for December 2016) but also pockets of Phase I and Phase II, which have still not implemented digital addressable systems.

At the same time, stakeholders agree that there is a shortage of STBs and just one or two players are making local boxes despite the ‘Make in India’ campaign, and the government had to be make some relaxations in the budget in this regard.

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