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CAS off in Delhi, on in other metros

Our Bureau

New Delhi , Aug. 25

BUCKLING under political compulsions, the Government today decided to put off the implementation of the conditional access system (CAS) in Delhi till after the elections, while the rollout would proceed as per schedule in the other three metros of Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.

This decision comes after a high level meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and attended by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, the Finance Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, the Law Minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, Delhi BJP leaders - Mr Madan Lal Khurana and Mr V.K. Malhotra - and the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Mr Prasad said, "CAS, which was a consumer-friendly measure, had unnecessarily become a case of complex and conflicting political interests and an election issue in Delhi. Hence, the decision to defer its implementation in Delhi." He also added that the Delhi BJP chief, Mr Khurana, was not against CAS per se. "Had it not become a political issue, we would have gone ahead and implemented CAS," Mr Prasad said.

Stating that it would be implemented as scheduled in the other three metros, he said, CAS was not meant to be "an object of political hostility". He also added that the decision to put off CAS till after the Delhi elections would not affect the Government's credibility. "There is no question of losing credibility as we are implementing CAS after the elections," he said.

However, the decision to go ahead with CAS in other three metros could cause problems. BJP's ally, the Shiv Sena, has already expressed its opposition to CAS. The Shiv Sena supremo, Mr Bal Thackeray, had earlier said that he would not permit the implementation of the system. In fact, at the last meeting of the CAS Implementation Committee meeting, Mr Anil Parab, a Mumbai-based cable operator and a Shiv Sena representative once again expressed dissent.

Meanwhile, the Delhi-based cable operators said that their investments in acquiring set-top boxes had gone waste. While most of the multi-system operators have not yet decided the future course of action, industry sources said that some of the service providers could go to court. Mr Jawahar Goel, Head of SitiCable, Zee Telefilms' distribution arm, said, "We will continue to offer pay channels only through a set-top box. If a consumer does not opt for a STB, he will not get to see pay channels. We will discuss the issue with other cable service providers before taking a final view."

According to Ms Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India, "The Government has buckled under political compulsions. If CAS is not implemented, the monthly bill of subscribers is likely to go up to Rs 450-500. Also, all the cable operators have decided to boycott Mr Khurana and the BJP during elections."

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