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Madras High Court refuses to grant stay on TRAI tariff order

MUMBAI: The Madras High Court has dismissed Star India and Vijay Television’s petition seeking an interim stay on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order, which will come into force starting 2 May.

However, the main petition challenging TRAI’s jurisdiction to fix tariff will be heard on 12 June. The bone of contention in that petition filed by Star and Vijay TV is that the TRAI has the power to regulate carriage but not content. The contracts with the multi-system operators (MSOs) are entirely in the realm of the Copyright Act and thus the TRAI cannot step in, the broadcasters have argued.

While dismissing the stay petitions, the Madras HC said that it would not touch upon the merits of the main matter (Copyright Act) now. “We have fixed the main writ petitions for final hearing on 12.06.2017,” the court said.

TRAI submitted before the court that the commercial contracts under the new tariff regime would take operational effect from 1 September.

As per the amended Clause 3 (b) of the tariff order, broadcasters are required to declare the nature of a channel as pay or free to air (FTA), as well as the maximum retail price (MRP) of the channel, 60 days from the date of the publication of the tariff order in the official gazette.

The tariff order along with the interconnection regulation was published on 3 March. Broadcasters will have to publish the MRP and nature of channels on 2 May.

After declaration of RIO (reference interconnect offer) by the broadcaster, a distribution platform operator (DPO) can make a request and the broadcaster has a month’s time (from the date of receipt of request) to sign the agreement. The commercial operation of the agreement will start only from 1 September.

Madras High Court Chief Justice Indira Bannerjee was hearing Star India and Vijay Television’s petition pressing for staying the tariff order and interconnection regulation until the settlement of the main petition on jurisdiction by the HC.

The prayer was added after TRAI notified the tariff order and interconnection regulation on 3 March following the go-ahead of the Supreme Court. The SC had also stated that the Madras HC might continue to hear the issue of jurisdiction.

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

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

Irked by the order, TRAI filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the SC, which allowed the regulator to frame regulations with the condition that the same be placed before the apex court before being notified.