Tarsem Singh, 52, of Bobiyan village in Kathua went to Hiranagar, 10 km away, to receive a free Doordarshan set-top box from the Union Minister of State in the PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh, last month.
However, he is yet to make up his mind on what to do with it as he already has one set-top box at home. “The government was distributing them for free. I thought let’s get one first and then decide what to do with it,” he says.
A farmer who owns nearly four acres, Tarsem was among the 20 people who were handed over the set-top boxes by the Union minister himself. Of them, 10 hailed from the border Kathua district and five each from the adjoining Samba and Jammu districts.
The Central government intends to distribute 15,000 DD set-top boxes each in Jammu and Kashmir divisions for free. In the first phase, 1,500 set-top boxes have been distributed in Kathua, Samba and Jammu.
Giving the boxes, Singh said people in border areas were compelled to watch “propaganda” of Pakistani TV channels as connectivity in border areas in the absence of mobile phone and TV signals remained a major issue, and that the Centre wanted to check this through DD, which would disseminate “authentic information”. With the DD set-top boxes, he said, the villagers could watch nearly 100 free-to-air channels and get information on government policies.
To be eligible, households had to be located within 0-5 km area of the International Border or Line of Control, have a TV/LCD screen, an official electricity connection, and a mobile phone connection. The government also specified that priority would be given to households with no access to TV cable network.
This, laughs Bobiyan sarpanch Bharat Bushan Sharma, shows how government decisions are taken. “Yeh ek jeeta-jaagta udaharan hai ki sarkar mein baithey log kaisey aam janata ke dukh-takleefon aur jagah ki jankari ke bagair, apney daftron mein baith kar, unkey liye policy banatey hein (This is a living example of how bureaucrats make policies for general masses sitting in their offices without an idea of their problems or of the area they live in).”
He adds, “What does the government want to convey by distributing DD set-top boxes when almost every household has a dish in border areas these days? Perhaps officials are under the impression that people in border areas still have TV antennas. These have been replaced by dish long ago, bringing an end to the popularity of Pakistani TV channels in the area.”
Sharma points out that the border villagers have never asked for free set-top boxes, and that their demands rather are installation of more mobile phone towers so that they can get better signal, five marla plots at safer places, away from the border, and reservation for their children in jobs and professional colleges.
Tarsem, along with his mother, wife and three children — in classes 8, 6 and nursery — lives in a pucca house. With a monthly income that he puts at Rs 2,000, he has a portable, 14-inch colour TV, a smartphone, and a washing machine. The 52-year-old says that while he bought the TV second-hand and installed the dish four years ago, most villagers had replaced the traditional aluminium antenna 14-15 years ago.
Before the installation of DTH, he would watch Pakistan TV on a neighbour’s black-and-white set as its signal was more clear than DD’s. While he can’t recall now the names of the shows he watched, Tarsem says it was hardly propaganda. Now, with his dish, Tarsem mostly watches news and sports, while the children watch entertainment channels.
Local businessman Desh Rattan, who remembers watching Pakistani shows such as Neelamgarh and Deewarein, says, “Until three decades ago, what to speak of border areas, even people in Jammu city used to watch Pakistani TV shows as their telecast was more clear than DD’s.”
Nearly 5 km away, Asha Rani of Panjgrain village, who also received a DD set-top box from the minister, too has a dish at home. She says her late husband, Som Dutt, got it installed nearly two years ago. She lives in a pucca house along with her mother-in-law Kanta Devi and two children.
“I told them we already have a dish, but my name got shortlisted for getting a set-top box from the government,” she says, in apparent reference to officials who visited the village to identify beneficiaries. Asha Rani adds, “If the government wanted to help families living below poverty line in border areas, it should have given them something which they did not have.”
She also hopes for a 5-marla plot where she could move along with her children in case of firing by Pakistan.
Sons Muneesh and Nitin, who study in a private school in the village, complain that the movie and entertainment channels they watch are not available on the DD set-top box. Nitin lists his favourites: Star Utsah, Zee Anmol, Sony Wah, Sony Pal and Zee Cinema.
A rethink on the part of the government isn’t likely though. Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Sanjeev Verma says the scheme intends to give free DD set-top boxes to every house in border areas. “However, as nearly 70-80 per cent of the people already have set-top boxes, there is a possibility some of them will get these ones too.”