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Bombay HC upholds TRAI tariff order’s Constitutional validity

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on June 30, 2021

The court restrained TRAI from taking any coercive action against the broadcasters for six weeks   -  istockphoto

But sets aside the MRP condition for a la carte channnel

The Bombay High Court has upheld the new tariff order for the broadcasting sector issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India last year.

Under this tariff scheme, TRAI had asked broadcasters to offer 200 Free To Air (FTA) channels at a base price of ₹160, instead of 100 channels earlier. It mandates an MRP of ₹12 per channel, down from the earlier ₹19. It restricts discounting on channel bouquets to promote

a la carte offerings.

While the move by TRAI benefited consumers, the broadcasting industry opposed it saying the regulator was “strangulating it”.

The industry filed a plea in the Bombay High Court questioning TRAI’s powers. All broadcasters like Sony Pictures, Disney-owned Star India, ZEE Entertainment, TV18, and Film and Television Producers Guild of India were part of the petition. “The Bombay High Court, in its judgment today, where it agreed with the contentions and submissions of the DoT and upheld the constitutional validity of the TRAI Act and the Regulations. This was a unique case, as the petitioners had fundamentally premised their challenge to Section 11(2) of the TRAI Act, 1997 on the ground that it grants unlimited powers to the TRAI to curb the petitioner’s freedom of speech and expression,” said Ashish Mehta, senior counsel, who represented the DoT in the case.

The court however set aside one of the twin conditions that said the MRP of an a la carte channel could not be more than one-third the maximum rate of a channel in a bouquet. This meant that if the price of a channel offered in a bouquet was ₹15 then the broadcaster could not charge more than ₹5 for the same channel on a la carte mode.

The court also restrained TRAI from taking any coercive action against the broadcasters for six weeks. This may allow the broadcasting industry time to approach the Supreme Court.

Published on June 30, 2021

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