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Rediff.com  » Business » I&B to PMO: The CAS journey

I&B to PMO: The CAS journey

July 07, 2003 11:23 IST
On Friday, Information & Broadcasting Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was summoned to the Prime Minister's Office in the evening.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, additional secretary in the PMO, negotiated for seven hours with broadcasting and cable network companies on the issue of the rollout of the conditional access system for television viewing. A consensus formula was thrashed out, and Prasad was asked to brief the media on how the PMO had resolved the issue.

Although CAS has right through been the baby of the I&B ministry, the PMO last week sidelined Prasad and his ministry in working out the formula.

In fact, Prasad and senior I&B ministry officials were kept out of Friday's negotiations held in South Block. The only representative from the I&B ministry was Prasad's officer on special duty, Uday Singh Kumawat.

However, sources close to Prasad say he himself told the PMO that he needed help because he felt his officers were wavering on the issue. "Kulkarni had been appointed adviser to the I&B minister anyway, and was pressed into service," one of the sources said. "He was speaking from a script prepared by Prasad."

Kulkarni, it is worth noting, had attended one of the meetings of the task force on CAS in mid-May to assess the seriousness of the players.

With the CAS debate getting hotter by the day, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had summoned Prasad early in June, directing him to implement the system in a "consumer-friendly" manner. This was the first indication that the PMO was alive to the controversy and its possible political fallout.

After the government asked broadcasters to come out with individual channel prices, there was a clash between cable network companies and broadcasters of pay channels.

A few days later, the Prime Minster again summoned Prasad to take stock of the situation, and asked him to ensure that the cable bills of consumers did not shoot up and they did not have to pay more after CAS was in place. Insiders say subsequent to this meeting, Vajpayee asked Kulkarni to step in to resolve the crisis.

After the June 18 talks between broadcasters and cable network companies, convened by the ministry, failed Pawan Chopra, secretary, I&B ministry, was summoned by Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister.

All efforts by Prasad for a consensus failed in the days that followed. The I&B ministry's talks with the various parties involved failed to reach a solution acceptable to all.

Finally, on July 2, the broadcasters were summoned by Kulkarni. Sources said the idea of pay channels being free to air for about a month was suggested at this meeting.

On July 4, Kulkarni indicated at a meeting with cable network companies and broadcasters that a give-and-take solution was required, for which both parties should be ready to do their bit.

The broadcasters agreed to waive subscription fees for pay channels for a month and cable operators were asked disclose their subscribers. At the end, Prasad was called in to brief the media.

BS Bureau