The Bombay High Court on Wednesday, 26th February 2020, asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s counsels Venkatesh Dhond and Vineet Naik to take instructions and inform on Thursday on the issue that whether the new tariff cap of ₹12 per pay channel in a bundle can be delayed or put off while the court hears the appeals which are filed by Producers, Broadcasters and Cable Operators against the new provisions.
A division bench was constituted of Justices Amjad Sayyed and Anuja Prabhudessai which observed that the 2020 regulations and tariff order is to come into play on March 1.
A group of senior counsels appeared on behalf of the petitioners to seek interim relief and suggested that at least till their plea is heard as per the 2017 regime which allowed for price of ₹19 per pay channel in the bouquet may be continued so that the rights of broadcasters and even the other stake holders including distributors be protected.
“Even for interim relief, detailed arguments would have to be canvased. Considering the complex issues involved, it may not be possible to hear all the parties and pass orders within two days,” the court said.
“We deem it appropriate to request the Additional Solicitor General and the senior counsel for TRAI to take instructions whether the impugned 2020 Regulations and 2020 Tariff Order can be deferred,” the bench further added.
Several broadcasters including the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), a representative body comprising of TV channels, The Film and Television Producers Guild of India, Zee Entertainment Ltd and Sony Pictures Network India have appealed before the HC. Earlier in January, another bench had ruled against of putting off the deadline of January 15 given to broadcasters to submit their revised tariff plans to TRAI.
The broadcasters in their petitions said the amended regulations were “arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of their fundamental rights”.
Mukul Rohatgi, the counsel for Star and one of the petitioners said, “TRAI has no jurisdiction over content being provided by broadcasters” and agreed with Janak Dearkadas counsel for show producers said that the TRAI cannot act like it is “Alice in Wonderland” and must observe that even the Kerala HC has this month granted interim relief to several multi-system operators who challenged similar price restrictions imposed on them. He further added that the Supreme Court in December 2018 had observed that there has to be a balancing act between rights of broadcasters as well as consumers.
Other counsels Ravi Kadam, Navtoz Seervai and Gopal Jain also submitted “essentially that till such time the matter is heard for interim reliefs no coercive action be taken.”
Dhond said the broadcasters can publish their rate card within 15 days. But Kadam replied, “This will be an offer by the broadcasters. How does he go back (to recover money) if HC strikes down the new regulation eventually?” He and Dwarkadas said, “Challenge is admitted. The court has already taken consideration that matter requires hearing.”
Rohatgi said it was a question of rights of the broadcasters too and that it is not the right of consumers to free entertainment.
The TRAI, on January 1 2020, applied new tariff rules.
Earlier to this, all the free-to-air channels were there for Rs 130, and the consumers were required to pay more in order to watch additional channels. But under the application of the new tariffs, consumers will now have to pay Rs 130 as Network Capacity Fee charges, but will also be entitled to 200 channels.
The court hence noted that the operation of the earlier Regulations of 2017 had been postponed for one month by the TRAI. The HC posted the matter for further hearing on 27 February 2020.
Author – Devansh Dev