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TRAI tariff order case to be heard by new bench of Madras HC after judge’s recusal

MUMBAI: It is a twist that has taken everybody by surprise. The TRAI tariff order and interconnection regulation matter will be heard by a new bench as the two-member bench comprising Justice Nagamuthu and Justice Anita Sumanth has recused itself from hearing the case.

The new Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Justice Indira Bannerjee, who will be sworn in on 5 April, will decide the new bench to hear the matter.

The bench recused itself from hearing the case as an anonymous petition to the Chief Justice 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 the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) jurisdiction to fix price of content.

After the anonymous petition came to light, the bench said that it would not hear this matter anymore and left the decision to appoint a new bench to hear the case to the incoming Chief Justice.

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 the TRAI’s tariff order and interconnection regulation.

The broadcaster contended that TRAI did not have the jurisdiction to regulate TV channel pricing. The two parties 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 hearing 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 SC, which allowed the regulator to frame regulations. However, the same would have to be placed before the apex court before notifying.