The legal battle pertaining to the constitutionality of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order and interconnect regulations has been met with further delay in the Madras High Court. As per an order issued by a division bench of the Madras HC on April 28, the matter was slated to be heard next on June 12. However, sources privy to the listing of the case informed exchange4media that the hearing in the case filed by Star India and Vijay TV has been postponed to June 27.
Apparently, the judges felt that they will not be able to provide time to the case before the said date. At this stage, it is also not clear as to which bench will adjudicate over the case. The final call concerning the bench will ultimately be taken by Madras HC Chief Justice Indira Banerjee.
In late April, a division bench of the Madras HC consisting of Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar had dismissed Star India’s plea for an interim stay on the tariff order and interconnect regulations. “We are of the view that the petitioners have not made out a strong and prime facie case for interim stay,” said the bench.
Thereafter, a Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman granted an interim stay on the regulations on May 8. The apex court also directed the Madras HC to pronounce a judgement in the case within one month of the next date of hearing. Despite the ruling, there is no such assured timeline in place as per which the dispute will be resolved.
Previously, while allowing TRAI to notify the tariff order and interconnect regulations on March 3, the Supreme Court had asked the Madras HC to dispose the case within two months. However, it did not happen so as the case was hit by the recusal of three judges, namely, Justice S Nagamuthu, Justice Anita Sumanth and Justice S Manikumar.
In the writ petitions numbered 44126 and 44127 (2016), Star India and Vijay TV have objected to certain provisions of the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services Interconnection (Addressable Systems) Regulations, 2017 and Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Eight) (Addressable Systems) Tariff Order, 2017. Holding the same to be unconstitutional and in violation of TRAI Act, 1997, the petitioners have sought the quashing of the regulations by the learned court. The All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) and Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) act as interveners in the case.
Though the major broadcasters and multiple system operators (MSOs) had published their Reference Interconnection Offers (RIO) following the expiry of the deadline of May 2 set by TRAI, the rates are subject to the outcome of the pending legal dispute. According to TRAI’s submission through its counsel P Wilson before the court, the commercial transactions under the new regime will be operational from September 1.