Chaitanya D Mehta, representing the chief petitioner Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament Kirit Somaiya and other
politicians, opened proceedings by stating the original petition
is not restricted merely to monthly cable charges payable by the
consumer. Mehta stated that the other issues included disconnections,
black outs by cable operators, incorrect disclosures and non payment
of applicable taxes to the state and Central government.
During the court room proceedings a lot of inconsistent statements
were made by the assembled lawyers. For instance, Mehta read out
the applicable sections which stated that the Union government was
empowered to dictate the ceiling rate of the monthly cable charges.
However, it is important to note that he was quoting from the recently
amended Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2002
which empowers the government to determine the ceiling price of
free-to-air (FTA) channels - and not the pay channels. Also, industry
sources present in the court mentioned that some of these sections
will only become applicable from 14 July 2003 when conditional access
system (CAS) commences in the metropolitan cities.
Mehta also appealed to the Lordships to postpone the hearing to
18 July as the Central government is supposed to ratify certain
aspects of CAS by 17 July 2003 - three days after the implementation
However, Mehta was bang on target when he raised the issue of compliance.
He pointed out that there could be 2 million subscribers in the
city of Mumbai but the statistics available with the government
indicated the figure was in the region of 4,47,000. He also mentioned
that the government should be earning revenues of Rs 60 million
per month instead of the Rs 13 million that it is getting. He questioned
as to why the state and central government enforcement authorities
(excise department, income tax department officials and the legal
authorities such as the police) had failed to enforce and interpret
the laws correctly.
Mehta wondered whether there was a nexus between the enforcement
authorities and cable operators. He stated that the laws clearly
said that cable operators must maintain a maintenance register in
the prescribed form and produce (on demand by the enforcement authorities)
information on all aspects of their business including the exact
number of customers serviced.
Mehta also quoted sub sections 3, 4A, 5 amongst others which empowered
enforcement authorities to seize equipment of defaulting cable operators.
He pointed out that the broadcasters had admitted (in their petition
as well as in public statements) that only 25 per cent of the actual
subscriber base was declared by the cable trade.
This line of reasoning was seconded by Doordarshan / Prasar Bharati
lawyer additional solicitor-general of Maharashtra SB Jaisinghani.
Jaisinghani wondered as to why the enforcement authorities had failed
to conduct a single raid on any cable operator till date. He appealed
to the lordships to give the requisite instructions to the enforcement
The lawyers of the cable operators raised the issue of the chief
petitioner (BJP MP Somaiya) misguiding the general masses by wrongly
informing them (through banners in public places) that the High
Court order of 7 March included an injunction against raising cable
charges. One of the lawyers representing respondent No 25 (cable
distributor Sada Kadam) and Mumbai Cable Operators Federation lawyer
AM Saraogi urged the lordships to clarify that they had not passed
an injunction. They said that the "political gimmick" was affecting
the day-to-day cable business.
The lawyers representing the cable operators also stated that the
consumers were taking recourse to the incorrect or partly correct
interpretations made by the chief petitioners in their public communication
and refraining from making monthly cable payments. They pointed
out that petition of the chief petitioner mentioned that the broadcasters
were charging Rs 240 per month for pay channels. They argued that
the cable trade was willing to charge Rs 150 as long as the chief
petitioner was willing to compensate the difference in amount.
Meanwhile, MSO InCablenet lawyer Janak Dwarkadas again requested
the Lordships to give their verdict as the broadcasters were cutting
signals to the MSOs for non-payment of dues whereas the consumers
refused to pay in lieu of the incorrect messages sent out by the
chief petitioners and politicians.
After the Lordships postponed the hearing to 18 June 2003, some
of the assembled members of the cable trade mentioned that the case
would drag on till July 2003 when CAS would come into effect.
"There is no will to sort out the problem. However, it is a win-win
situation for the politicians. Even if their petition is dismissed,
later on, they can admit that they tried their best and score political
brownie points. But, the trade will continue to suffer due to consumers
refusing to pay and taking recourse to the campaign of the politicians.
With the decision being postponed, we shall have to battle on in
order to collect our rightful dues," says a cable operator on condition
on anonymity while speaking to indiantelevision.com.