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TDSAT gives NSTPL one month to clear Star’s and Taj’s dues

MUMBAI: The Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal ( TDSAT) has acceded to HITS operator Noida Software Technology Park Ltd’s (NSTPL) request by extending the time for payment of dues to broadcasters Star India and Taj Television by one month.

However, the extension of time is subject to payment of interests on the amount due at 12 per cent for the one month period by which the date of payment is extended.

The tribunal has also made it clear to the HITS operator that no further request for extension of time will be entertained, and in case payment is not made by the extended date, it would be open to the broadcasters to discontinue supply of their signals to the petitioner.

The tribunal had on 18 December 2015 directed NSTPL to pay the sum of Rs 1.69 crore (Rs 16.9 million) as liability until 30 September 2015 to Star India and the sum of Rs 58.24 lakh (Rs 5.82 million) as liability until 30 June 2015 to Taj Television by 31 January 2016.

Furthermore, both Star and Taj were directed to file before the tribunal the details of their interconnection arrangements with three pan-India MSOs, namely DEN Networks, Hathway Cable & Datacom, and Siti Cable. This was to determine on an ad hoc and interim basis the amount the HITS operator would be required to pay to the two broadcasters from 1 July 2015 in case of Taj and from 1 October 2015 in case of Star until the matter reached closure in terms of the judgment pronounced on 17 December 2015.

Both the orders dated 17 and 18 December 2015 were challenged by Star India before the Delhi High Court in Writ Petition No.70/2016 filed by Star. On 22 January 2016, the Delhi HC dismissed Star’s petition holding it to be not maintainable as the broadcaster had a remedy available in terms of Section 18 of the TRAI Act to move the Supreme Court.

After the dismissal of the writ petition, NSTPL had filed the two applications. In the first application, the prayer was to advance the date of the next listing of the matter from 9 February 2016 to an earlier date. In the second application, the prayer was to extend the date for payment of its dues to Star and Taj by a period of one month.

The two applications were listed for orders on 27 January 2016 and were adjourned for today to enable the counsels for Star and Taj to get proper instructions in the matter.

The tribunal noted that neither Star nor Taj had submitted its interconnection arrangements with the three pan-India MSOs as directed in the order dated 18 December 2015. It also said that the two broadcasters had not even filed the affidavits as directed.

Star India counsel Saikrishna Rajgopal submitted that Star would not insist on payment of any licence fee on interim or ad hoc basis from 1 October 2015 until the finalisation of the matter on 31 March 2016 and that it would continue to supply its signals to the petitioner subject to the payment of dues up to 30 September 2015.

Rather, Star wants to have the accounts settled with the HITS operator on the finalisation of the matter in terms of the tribunal’s judgment that would come into effect on 1 April 2016 or in terms of the new regulations that TRAI might frame in light of that judgment.

Saikrishna clarified that his statement was without prejudice to Star’s right to file an appeal against the tribunal’s judgment dated 17 December 2015.

The tribunal noted in its judgment that, rather than disclosing its commercial terms with the three distributors even to the tribunal, Star was willing to supply its signals to the petitioner on deferred payment and have its dues against the petitioner accumulate to several crores of rupees.

Before passing an order on the plea made by Star, the tribunal said that it would also like to know the stand of Taj in this regard. As requested on behalf of Taj, the matter was put up under the same head on 9 February 2016.

Earlier, the tribunal had allowed NSTPL to execute fresh interconnection agreements with Star and Taj, and with any other broadcasters on the basis of their respective RIOs or on negotiated terms within the limits, as described in the judgment.

The tribunal had directed Star and Taj to execute fresh interconnection agreements with the HITS operator within two weeks from the date of issuance of their fresh RIOs. The agreement with Star would relate back to 30 October 2015 and with Taj to 30 June 2015.

Noting that the present judgment might unsettle the way in which various parties in the broadcasting sector had entered into existing agreements, the tribunal had suspended the operation of this judgment until 31 March 2016.

The tribunal had observed that it would come out with an interim arrangement to determine NSTPL’s liability to pay licence fees to Star and Taj during the pendency of the petitions before and further until the execution of fresh agreements.

For this purpose, the tribunal had de-tagged petition no. 526 (C) of 2015 from this judgment and kept it pending. Star has already filed an application in Petition No. 314 (C) of 2015 claiming the dues of licence fees from the petitioner. Therefore, the two petitions have been tagged together.