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New bench to hear TRAI tariff order case in Madras HC as another judge backs out

MUMBAI: The TRAI tariff order matter has taken a new turn, with another judge selected by Chief Justice Indira Bannerjee also recusing himself from the case.

One of the reasons for the judge’s recusal is that he is hearing another matter involving the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Another reason could be that he simply recused himself from the matter as it is not mandatory for judges to hear every case.

The chief justice will again have to decide the new bench to hear the matter.

Earlier, 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.

Incidentally, Chidambaram is also appearing in the case on behalf of Star India and Vijay Television, who have challenged 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 had taken a new turn with the emergence of this petition.

Earlier, Star India and Vijay Television had amended their petition in the Madras High Court 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 Madras 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 said that any channel that was priced above Rs 19 could not be 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 price of content. The Madras HC ordered TRAI to maintain status quo.

Irked by the order, TRAI filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court, which allowed the regulator to frame regulations. However, the same would have to be placed before the apex court before notifying.

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