MUMBAI: In a setback for television channels, the Bombay High Court bench of Justices Amjad Sayed and Anuja Prabhudesai on Wednesday refused to grant any relief to the broadcasters, who have challenged the new tariff rates introduced by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). The bench has upheld the new tariff rates, however, has struck down a condition imposed by the TRAI wherein it was made mandatory that the price of a single channel in a bouquet (group of channels) cannot be more than one-third of the highest priced channel in that bouquet.
The judgment is delivered on a clutch of petitions filed by various broadcasters including the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Sony Pictures Network India, The Film and Television Producers Guild of India and Zee Entertainment Ltd.
Notably, TRAI had introduced the new tariff rules in December 2019, by which Network Capacity Fee (NCF) was lowered in order to benefit consumers.
After the amendments, now the consumers will only have to pay Rs 130 as NCF charge and will get nearly 200 channels. The amendments also proposed modifications in the rates of individual channels.
Notably, a consumer had to pay Rs. 130 for all free-to-air channels and were asked to pay extra to watch additional channels.
Opposing these new rules, the broadcasters had argued that since there is a huge difference in the choices and preferences of the consumers, there are chances that not all would want a similar package. They further claimed that if enforced, the amended rates would compel channels to shut down, which would be a direct infringement upon their fundamental right to business.
However, the bench on Wednesday said, "The challenge to the constitutional validity of the 2020 rules and regulations of TRAI fails."
The bench, however, granted six weeks time for the broadcasters to study the judgement and approach the Supreme Court in appeal. The judges have continued the interim relief, granted to the operators back in August 2020 till six weeks time.
"The condition related to the average pricing of a channel in a bouquet is arbitrary and hence is struck down," the judges added.
Apart from this, the TRAI had also introduced another clause wherein operators would have to provide a 60 per cent discount for additional TV sets. “As per this clause, if any household has an additional TV set, then we have to give a discount of 60 per cent on the fees for initial 226 channels. These new rates and rules are arbitrary and against the rights of equality and business,” argued advocate Rahul Soman for the local cable operators, who too had challenged the TRAI rates.