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Madras HC chief justice to hear TRAI tariff order matter

MUMBAI: The TRAI tariff order case will be heard by the Madras High Court Chief Justice Indira Banerjee after two benches successively recused themselves from hearing the matter due to different reasons.

The matter, which got stalled briefly due to recusals, will come up for hearing on Monday.

First, the two-member bench comprising Justice Nagamuthu and Justice Anita Sumanth had recused from the case after an anonymous petition to the chief justice had claimed that Justice Nagamuthu had sought P Chidambaram’s help in becoming the judge.

madras-high-courtIncidentally, Chidambaram is also appearing in the case on behalf of Star India and Vijay Television, who have challenged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order and interconnection regulation.

The chief justice then notified the division bench of Justices S Manikumar and M Govindaraj to hear the matter. However, Justice Manikumar recused himself from the case because he was hearing another matter involving TRAI.

Star India and Vijay TV had finished their arguments and it was TRAI’s turn to make its submissions. Even before the regulator could finish its arguments, the case took a new turn with the emergence of this petition.

Earlier, Star India and Vijay Television had amended their petition in the Madras HC by adding a new prayer for setting aside TRAI’s tariff order and interconnection regulation.

The broadcaster had contended that TRAI did not have the jurisdiction to regulate TV channel pricing. The two parties had earlier prayed that TRAI had overstepped its jurisdiction and violated the Copyright Act, which deals with all aspects of exploitation and monetisation of content.

TRAI had notified the tariff order and interconnection regulation on 3 March after the Supreme Court had given it the go-ahead. The SC had earlier stated that the HC could continue to hear the issue of jurisdiction.

While retaining most of the recommendations, TRAI had removed the genre-wise price ceiling. The authority had said that any channel priced above Rs 19 could not be a part of the bouquet.

Earlier, the HC had disallowed the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) from impleading in the matter. However, they have been allowed as interveners in the matter.

In December 2016, Star and Vijay had challenged TRAI’s jurisdiction to fix the price of content. The Madras HC ordered TRAI to maintain status quo.

An irked TRAI then filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the SC, which allowed the regulator to frame regulations. However, the same would have to be placed before the apex court before being notified.

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