Monday, December 29, 2003

Mad Vow Disease strikes Malhotra

Veteran Delhi politician Madan Lal Khurana is being officially sent on sanyas after he failed miserably to snatch victory from Congress' Sheila Dikshit in the just-concluded Assembly election. The prime reason, all agreed, was that Mr Khurana had just too many regressive ideas to attract a Delhi on a progressive path.

He loved taking vows. He would vow to stop CNG implementation, he would not just vow but manage to defer the implementation of the Conditional Access System (CAS) for TV, he would vow to stop Delhi Metro from demolishing houses coming on its route, he would vow to protect the illegally built floors across the city. He was a man of vows. Sometimes bad, sometimes mad, but vows nevertheless.

Alas Delhiites were not wowed by the vows. Khurana lost his last battle. As he proceeds to the final stage of his political career, governorship, he would be happy to know he would not be missed. A certain Vijay Kumar Malhotra is his vow-rthy successor. He has begun making the right-sounding wrong noises and the din would only increase with time.

Mr Malhotra has appealed to Information and Broadcasting Minister Ravishankar Prasad to postpone the implementation of CAS by a year and reconsider it so as to make it consumer-friendly. The last time it was extended for a year was when Mr Khurana wanted to fight elections and it sounded cheap publicity. He lost. Now as the Lok Sabha elections seem imminent, Mr Malhotra wants another postponement.

But Mr Malhotra did not stop there - he jumped the gun. He appealed to consumers that they should not buy the set-top boxes (necessary to watch pay channels in a CAS regime) as the Ministry Of Information And Broadcasting is reconsidering the whole issue. That was before Mr Prasad sent him a reply about whether he would acquiesce to his request.

In a really ironic zeal to bend the Parliament Act passed to enact CAS, he wrote to Mr Prasad: "The CAS Act was passed unanimously in both Houses of Parliament to give protection to the consumer from exploitation by service providers. But, it has resulted in just the opposite. It has become consumer hostile."

Wow! Mis-Leaders like him turned consumers against the system and now he's positioning that hostility to justify his hostility. Mr Prasad belongs to his party, the Central government is led by his party, and everything favours him, so Mr Malhotra might get his wish. And Delhi might just remain in the hands of the cable racketeers for another year, who have nearly turned this into a mafia business.

But if Mr Prasad has his conscience and can stand by his word, he can castrate Mr Malhotra's queries easily. Here's a quick two-bit reply to Mr Malhotra's two-bit questions:

MALHOTRA'S ARGUMENT: Service Providers are exploiting the situation by forcing the consumers to buy set-top boxes under the threat of not showing pay channels.

Reply: That's exactly what Conditional Access System means. The boxes are necessary to watch pay channels. And the consumers pay for pay channels even if they don't have CAS or that set-top box. A set-top box at least gets the best possible picture and sound quality for pay channels we pay for.

MALHOTRA'S ARGUMENT: The price, quality, rent, security, refund of security and the rate of different channels have not yet been finalised.

Reply: Who's responsible for that? Madan Lal Khurana, you and your government. Had you let the government go ahead with the system, many channels would have gone free-to-air by now for lack of subscription. The refund, security, rent and quality are anyway finalised by now. The channel bouquets, bunching and individual channel rates are not. Had this been implemented in all four metros simultaneously, the rates would have crashed anyway.

MALHOTRA'S ARGUMENT: The High Court has directed that it would monitor the implementation of CAS and has fixed the next hearing in April next year. However, what will happen to those who buy the set-top boxes during this period.

REPLY: What will the high court monitor if CAS is extended for a year? Stupid!

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