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TDSAT’s verdict in Taj TV-Fastway row

MUMBAI: The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has imposed a fine on TV distribution company Taj Television for wilful disobedience of the tribunal’s order by not providing signals of its channels to multi-system operator (MSO) Fastway Transmission in Karnal, Haryana.

The tribunal has imposed a fine on Taj Television at the rate of Rs 100,000 per day from 3 February 2015 until it starts giving its signals to Fastway. The fine amount is to be deposited within two weeks from 12 March.

“On a careful consideration of the matter, we find that Taj Television is clearly guilty of wilful disobedience of the order of the tribunal and it is, therefore, liable to pay fine as provided under Section 20 of the TRAI Act,” the tribunal said in its order.

Fastway had filed an application for holding Taj Television guilty of wilful failure to comply with the order dated 29 January. The tribunal has disposed of the MSO’s application.

In its order dated 29 January, the tribunal had stated, “Having regard to the fact that due to non-supply of the signals, Fastway may be losing the market on a daily basis, we direct Taj Television as an interim arrangement to supply its signals to Fastway by 3 February 2015.”

For receiving the signals, Fastway was directed to pay a monthly subscription fee at the rate of Rs 17 lakh (Rs 1.7 million). The payment for the first month in advance was to be deposited to the tribunal by 3 February.

The tribunal noted that Taj Television has admittedly not given its signals to Fastway in Karnal to date.

The tribunal further noted that Taj deliberately kept on dragging the matter despite repeated reminders by Fastway to comply with the tribunal’s order.

It pointed out that despite Fastway enclosing the proof of payment of Rs 17 lakh (Rs 1.7 million) as a deposit with the TDSAT, all that it got in response was a cryptic email stating that Taj Television was processing the matter and would revert soon.

Taj Television counsel Tejveer Singh Bhatia admitted that Taj had not so far provided its signals to Fastway and the direction dated 29 January 2015 of the tribunal remained un-complied with.

He, however, stated that Taj Television proposed to take the matter to the Supreme Court and file a special leave petition (SLP) against the orders passed by the Delhi High Court.

Taj had challenged the tribunal’s order before the Delhi High Court on 3 February 2015. However, the petition was dismissed by a speaking order passed on 5 February. Taj then challenged the order passed by the single judge by filing an internal court appeal on 9 February, which too was dismissed by a speaking order passed on 10 March 2015.

Bhatia submitted that in case Taj started supplying its signals to Fastway and gave it its decoders, its case before the Supreme Court would get compromised and the SLP that it proposed to file might, in effect, be rendered unfruitful even before it is filed.

The tribunal affirmed that Taj is fully entitled to seek its remedy in accordance with law. However, it cannot be used as a pretext to flout the tribunal’s order with impunity.

Reprimanding Taj, the tribunal said, “We find no substance in Mr Bhatia’s submission that the supply of signals at this stage would render the SLP proposed to be filed before the Supreme Court ineffective and infructuous.”

It further noted that the supply of signals is not like giving possession of some immovable property as signals can be supplied and deactivated merely by putting a switch to on or off.

It went on to state that the proper course for Taj was to give signals to Fastway, which would be in compliance with the tribunal’s interim order and without prejudice to its rights to challenge the tribunal’s order and subject to the outcome of the challenge before the High Court.

“It did not do so and even though there was no stay at any stage in the proceedings before the Delhi High Court, it decided for itself that it would not supply its signals to Fastway, showing complete defiance to the tribunal’s order,” the TDSAT observed.

In course of submissions, Bhatia also stated that Fastway owed Taj around Rs 8 crore (Rs 80 million) in terms of agreements for different regions (other than Karnal for which there is no agreement between the parties).

Taking objection to this allegation, Fastway counsel Navin Chawla submitted that on the contrary, Taj Television owed a sum of Rs 3.7 crore (Rs 37 million) to Fastway as dues of carriage fee. Bhatia denied that Taj Television owed any money to Fastway.

“From the facts and circumstances narrated above, it appears to us that Taj Television is adamant not to supply its signals to Fastway in the area of Karnal, and the filing of the writ petition, the LPA and the proposed SLP are pretexts to somehow sit over the order of the tribunal and to undermine and jeopardise the commercial interests of Fastway as much as possible.

“Perhaps it finds more profitable to pay the fine under Section 20 of the TRAI Act than to allow Fastway to compete for the market share in Karnal with another MSO whom it is alleged to be showing favours at the expense of other MSOs,” the order read.