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TRAI awaits call from Madras High Court for Arasu hearing

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MUMBAI: More than four weeks have passed since the Madras High Court gave the interim order restraining the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) from taking any coercive steps against the Tamil Nadu state government-owned MSO Arasu Cable TV Corp for giving analogue signals in Chennai.

However, there has been no follow up by the Madras HC on what it intends to do following the stay. 

Anticipating a date soon, TRAI lawyers are already up on their toes and are compiling their response so that it can be submitted to the court. “We are still waiting for a date of the hearing. We haven’t heard anything from the court,” says a senior TRAI official.

The case filed against two parties – the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) and the TRAI will hopefully be  heard soon where the respondents from both the parties will get a chance to present their individual viewpoints. 

The entire issue cropped up because Arasu has not been granted a digital addressable system (DAS) licence to run its business in the state even after continuous efforts to secure it. The MSO is still giving out analogue signals, thus keeping Chennai as the only city from Phase I to not go the whole hog on digitisation. 

In its order which it passed late December 2013, the court states that the Inter-ministerial Committee (IMC) formed to decide the fate of Arasu has to move quickly on it. The order also mentions that Arasu abided by the rules and applied for a licence even after the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 was amended in 2012.

“It is not known to this Court as to why the first respondent (MIB) has not taken any decision so far on the application of the petitioner,” states the order. 

The TRAI view on this is quite clear. Says a senior official at the regulator: “The decision on granting the licence lies with the MIB. In our recommendation we said that state governments should not be given the licence. The IMC is working on it but we haven’t yet got any response from them.” 

The HC also states that since Arasu had followed the rules for applying for a licence, the MIB is not justified in keeping the matter pending and not arriving at a conclusion. It has also directed the Ministry to come out with a decision at the earliest.

If MIB follows the TRAI’s cue and bars Arasu from securing a licence, the regulator  can take action against the MSO, according to the official. “If the MIB disqualifies Arasu from getting a licence, it cannot operate and if they do, they will be in violation of the law,” he says.

As of now, nothing can be done against Arasu due to the interim order given by the Madras HC. But which direction this case moves is extremely crucial as the country is soon entering phase III and IV of digitisation. And it will decide whether the city of Chennai remains an analogue island in a sea of digitised India. 

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