The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Centre and Trai to file reply on pleas challenging the Bombay High Court verdict which had upheld validity of a tariff order passed by the regulator last year but struck down one condition which said the price of a single channel cannot be more than one-third of the highest priced channel in that bouquet.
The pleas against the high court’s June 30 judgement came up for hearing before a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana which issued notices on the petitions but refused to grant interim relief at this stage.
“So far as the prayer for grant of interim relief is concerned, taking into consideration the rival submissions made by the senior counsel appearing for the parties, we are not inclined to grant the same at this stage,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose.
The apex court posted the matter for hearing on September 7 to consider the question of granting interim relief in the matter.
At the outset, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for one of the petitioners, said the issue affects the entire broadcasting industry.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the high court has recorded that the regulation is in interest of millions of consumers.
“Issue notice returnable on September 7, 2021,” the bench said in its order.
It directed the respondents to file their counter affidavits in the matter before the next date of hearing.
The bench also permitted the petitioners to file their replies to the counter affidavits, if any, in advance.
On January 1, 2020, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had issued new tariff rules by which the Network Capacity Fee (NCF) price was lowered, benefitting consumers.
Previously, a sum of Rs 130 was applicable for all free-to-air channels and consumers needed to pay more in order to watch additional channels.
After the amendments to the broadcast sector tariffs, which fall under Trai’s purview, consumers will pay Rs 130 as NCF charge, but will be entitled to get 200 channels. Changes were also mandated to be made in the price of individual channels.
The high court had delivered its judgement on a batch of petitions filed by several broadcasters, including the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, a representative body of TV broadcasters, the Film and Television Producers Guild of India, Zee Entertainment Ltd and Sony Pictures Network India.
The petitioners had argued before the high court that the new regulations were “arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of their fundamental right”.
Trai had defended its regulation before the high court, saying it was a consumer-friendly measure and aimed at ensuring ensure transparency and non-discrimination in channel rates.
The high court also said that interim order passed earlier asking the Trai not to take any coercive steps was extended for a period of six weeks.