Several cable operators, MSO representatives, media and lawyers
were eagerly waiting for the court to take up item number 17 in
court no 46 of the Mumbai High Court. Lawyer Chaitanya Dhruve Mehta
(of Dhruve Liladhar & Co) representing BJP MP (member of parliament)
Kirit Somaiya's group started the proceedings by saying that they
needed time as three affected parties had filed their responses
Mehta added that the involved parties needed more clarification
on the fact that the government-piloted task force on conditional
access is likely to recommend to the government a revised rate of
Rs 71.33 (exclusive of taxes) as the price of the basic tier, which
has the support of a majority of the panel members. The new figure
had been put to vote in a task force meeting yesterday in New Delhi.
While speaking to indiantelevision.com, Mehta says: "Prasar Bharati,
Star India and Mumbai Cable Operators Federation (MCOF) president
Nandan Basu filed their replies yesterday. We have sought time to
study the responses before filing our replies. Also, we expect that
the CAS task force will get a fix on the pricing of the free-to-air
channels within a week. It would make sense to postpone the hearing
When questioned about the previous order (dated 7 March), Mehta
said that it was victory for the consumers who managed to see the
cricket World Cup without any disruptions or blackouts by the cable
operators."The FTA price of Rs 71.3 plus taxes will work out below
the range of Rs 150 per month per subscriber that Kirit Somaiya
has been demanding. We shall strive to ensure that the rights of
the consumers are protected!"
Consumer Action Network president lawyer Ahmad M Abdi added: "Yesterday's
CAS task force recommendation is a new development and we welcome
the price of Rs 71.33 per month per subscriber. We are also happy
that the High Court has persisted with its earlier order prohibiting
arbitrary disconnection. Ever since the hearing has begun, consumers
have benefited a lot."
Maharashtra state government additional solicitor-general SB Jaisinghani,
representing Doordarshan raised the point about the cable operators
indulging in under-declarations. He also added that the government
had already given the cable trade a time period of six months starting
January 2003 to pave the way for CAS in July 2003.
On 7 March, the court order had accepted one of the petitioner's
Seven Star cable's undertaking that there would be no disconnection
or stoppage of broadcasting of programmes except in individual cases
of nonpayment of regular charges.
However, the order stated that the above statement doesn't prevent
arguments on behalf of the MSOs. At that time, Seven Star officials
claimed that the above mentioned statement is binding on all the
MSOs (multi-system operators) in Mumbai.
However, the counsels of the other MSOs had argued that the decision
is binding only on Seven Star (which gave the undertaking) and not
necessarily on the other MSOs. They also claim that the existing
agreements between the cable operators and the MSOs are still valid.
They also point out that Seven Star had already hiked its rates
in late 2002 and the trade/consumers had protested against these
rate hikes then. Today, lawyers representing MSOs stated that consumers
were refusing to pay the new rates applicable from 1 January 2003
due to improper communication and false perceptions. They sought
clarifications from the HC on this issue.
The High Court ruling also directed the cable associations named
respondents (Mumbai Cable Operators Federation - MCOF - amongst
others) to avoid disconnection's as the counsel for the petitioners
had served notices and undertook the process of filing affidavit
The other cable associations in the city who are not affiliated
to MCOF say that the HC ruling is not binding on them.
All eyes will be on the final decision of the I&B ministry and
the subsequent High Court hearing on 23 April 2003.