The Madras High Court has pumped in some more breathing time for the residents of Chennai to go digital. The deadline for cable TV digitisation has now been extended to November 19, Times of India reports. The decision comes just days after the court granted Chennai an extension till November 5, from the earlier October 31 deadline, after it was found that the process of digitisation was far from complete.

Elaborating upon the turn of events leading to the deadline extension, the report shared that Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar opined that considering the matter had a larger public interest at heart, it should be heard by a division bench. Yesterday, quite a few writ petitions filed by the cable television operators' federation and multi-system operators (MSOs) had been brought up for hearing. 

No more deadline extensions

Deadline extension, yet again (Image Credit: Getty Images)

In a rather interesting revelation during the hearing on Friday, P S Raman, senior counsel for Sun TV Network, shared that it had over two lakh set top boxes (STBs) in its possession. He added that it would take only 20 days to start distribution, if the MSOs placed their orders. Raman even shared that Sun TV network had not been approached by any cable operator for STB supply, and hence claims of a shortage of STBs were false. 

According to senior central government standing counsel, S Haja Mohideen Gisthi, the Centre “was prepared to extend the last date up to December 31 if an undertaking was given by the state government that it would implement digital access system (DAS) in Chennai within a time frame.” Gisthi also gave a copy of a letter written by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to counsel. 

As it stands now, residents across Chennai have time till November 19 to make the switch to digital signals. 

Johnson D Kennedy, the president of the Chennai Metro Cable TV Operators’ Association, had filed a writ petition, based on which Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar passed the interim order. The issue was kept on hold till November 5 awaiting a reply from the Centre as well as to procure the required records.

According to Kennedy, the deadline had been extended on two occasions since the regulation to implement the Digital Addressable System (DAS) had come into effect. He cited the unavailability of set top boxes (STBs) as the reason for Chennai missing the deadline — an issue that had been reported in the past too.

In June this year, a Times of India report had confirmed that in Chennai, stakeholders such as the government-run Arasu Cable TV Corporation and Sun TV Network's Sumangali Cable Vision were not fully ready to meet the July 1 deadline, the previous deadline.  The Information and Broadcasting ministry too hinted that chances were that it may extend the deadline on a city-to-city basis, if need be. 

In June, Chennai and Kolkata were far the position required for them to reach the stipulated deadline.  In Chennai, only 12.5 percent of the total subscribers had STBs. Quoting P Sakilan, the president of the operators' association, the report adds, “It is highly impossible to launch digital network in Chennai before July”. Sakilan stated that even if the operators were to provide the  STBs for free to the viewers, it would take four months to import them, test-run them, and deliver them to 40 lakh viewers in Chennai. 

In the meanwhile, there are reports of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting moving into the second phase of digitisation. In a recent high-level meeting headed by Uday Kumar Varma, Secretary – Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the preparedness of the Phase II cities for digitisation was gauged. As it stands now, the digitisation deadline across 38 cities in 15 states is set for March 31, 2013. 

In its official statement, the Ministry shares that it had notified on November 11, 2011 about the phase-wise digitisation of analogue cable TV networks in India. Going further, the Ministry shared that the process of digitisation of the analogue cable TV networks has been completed across Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. It added that as on November 5, 2012, 22.4 lakh STBs have been installed in Mumbai, 25.15 lakh in Delhi and 17.74 lakh STBs have been installed in Kolkata. As for Chennai, the Ministry noted that the matter is sub-judice in the Madras High Court. As per the figures released by the I&B Ministry, 29 lakh subscribers have DTH connections in the four metro cities. 

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