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TRAI to begin arguments in the tariff order matter from Monday

MUMBAI: The Madras High Court will hear the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) pleadings on Monday and Tuesday as the other respondents, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and the DIPP, have completed their arguments.

Broadcasters Star India and Vijay TV were the first to complete their arguments. The HC had resumed hearing in the matter from 27 June.

Earlier, the Madras HC had put off the hearing to 27 June. The matter was supposed to come up for hearing on 12 June.

Chief Justice Indira Banerjee had said that the court would not be able to hear the case before 27 June and that the court would decide which bench would hear the case.

Star India had challenged TRAI’s tariff order and interconnection regulation, arguing that the regulator did not have any jurisdiction to do so.

Earlier on 6 May, the Supreme Court had stayed TRAI’s tariff order and interconnection regulation until the Madras HC decided on the broadcaster’s petition challenging the regulator’s powers to fix tariff for TV content.

The apex court had also directed the HC to conclude the matter in four weeks with a day-to-day hearing while listing the matter for 12 June.

The bench of Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman had stayed the tariff order and interconnection regulation matter after the TRAI counsel submitted that the new regime would come into effect from 1 September.

Represented by senior counsels P Chidambaram, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Amit Sibal, Star had argued that the new regime would unsettle the existing system.

Once implemented, it would be difficult to go back to the old system in case the Madras HC decided in the broadcaster’s favour, the broadcaster had argued.

The broadcaster had also argued that the matter got delayed at the Madras HC due to the recusal of judges.

It had also submitted that there was no hurry to implement the tariff order and the regulations now since it would officially take effect from 1 September.

Earlier, the Madras HC had dismissed Star and Vijay TV’s petition for a stay on the tariff order and regulation until the completion of the jurisdiction appeal.

This prompted Star to move the SC. TRAI had notified the tariff order and interconnection regulation on 3 March, following a go-ahead from the SC.

Moreover, the SC had 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 should not be a part of the bouquet. In December 2016, Star and Vijay had challenged TRAI’s jurisdiction to fix the price of content.

The Madras HC ordered TRAI to maintain status quo in the matter. Irked by the order, TRAI filed a special leave petition (SLP) in the SC, which allowed the regulator to frame regulations with the condition that the same be placed before the apex court before being notified.