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SC grants stay on TRAIs new tariff order

The new tariff order of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was challenged by Star India Pvt. Ltd. and its subsidy Vijay Television Pvt. Ltd. on the pretext of violation of the Copyright Act, 1957. TRAI had proposed a new tariff framework for pricing and packaging of TV channels offered to subscribers, listing genres and genre wise price ceiling on channels.

Star India and Vijay Television (the broadcasters) had originally filed writ petitions in Madras High Court against the draft regulations on the standing that the regulations are in conflict with the Copyright Act, 1957. The broadcasters had contended that TRAI could only regulate carriage and not content, and said that the interconnect regulations and tariff order made by TRAI were outside its scope of regulation making power.

The Madras High Court had dismissed the broadcasterís petition seeking a stay on the tariff order and regulation till the completion of the jurisdiction appeal. The Court on 9th January 2017 issued an order of status quo. This prompted Star to move the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, TRAI notified the tariff order and interconnection regulation on 3rd March following a go-ahead from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had also stated that the Madras HC can continue to hear the issue of jurisdiction. While retaining most of the recommendations, the TRAI had removed the genre-wise price ceiling.

The Madras High Court after considering all the facts and circumstances was of the view that the petitioners have not made out a strong and prima facie case for interim stay. The principles of 'presumption is in favor of validity' operates against the petitioners, who have chosen to challenge some clauses in the interconnect regulations and tariff order. The writ petitioners were not able to show that an exception has to be made in this case.

Meanwhile, TRAI announced that its tariff regulations which were to come into effect on 2nd April were being deferred to 2nd May 2017 and hence, the broadcasters decided not to press for their pleas against the tariff order.

On May 1, 2017 the Supreme Court denied an early hearing of an appeal by the broadcasters against the order of Madras High Court.

After the hearing on May 8, 2017 the Supreme Court granted a stay on TRAIís new tariff orders. A division bench of Court comprising Justice Rohinton Fali and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose agreed to the demand of Star India.

The Supreme Court has also directed the Madras High Court to conclude the matter in one month. The matter will come up for hearing in the Madras High Court on 12 June.