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Star seeks a stay on TRAI tariff order till Madras HC settles jurisdiction issue

MUMBAI: Star India on Tuesday argued for a stay on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order until the Madras High Court takes a final decision on the petition challenging the regulator’s powers to fix tariff for TV channels.

The broadcaster made its submissions and would complete its pleadings on Wednesday, following which TRAI and other parties would get a chance to put forth their arguments.
Earlier, the bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee had adjourned the tariff order case until Tuesday due to paucity of time.

The Chief Justice had decided to hear the case after two division benches recused themselves from hearing the matter due to different reasons.

First, the two-member bench comprising Justices Nagamuthu and 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’s 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 S Manikumar recused himself from the case, citing that 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 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 gave 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 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 being notified.

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