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Delhi HC removes legal hurdles to implement DAS IV by 1 Jan 2017

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NEW DELHI/ MUMBAI: The Delhi High Court has vacated all interim orders giving extension of deadline in Phase III of digitisation, thus clearing legal hurdles for complete digitisation by the stipulated deadline of 31 December 2016 when the last and Phase IV is supposed to get completed.

The court, disposing of pending petitions, directed all petitioners to run a scroll on their networks about digitisation and analog switch-off in two weeks, apart from informing their subscribers in advance about the change-over to digital signals that will require a set-top-box (STB).

Last month, the court overruled orders passed by various other courts in the country and, in eight other cases, vacated the stay where petitioners had sought an extension of deadline for implementing digital addressable system (DAS) in Phase III areas.

While originally the date for implementation of DAS Phase III was 30 September 2014, it was extended to 31 December 2015 by a notification issued by the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB). The country, as per the original plan, is supposed to be fully digitised with the completion of Phase IV by the last day of 2016.

With the latest court directive, now it’s up to the various industry stakeholders, the government and the regulator to ensure that Phase IV is completed on schedule or as early as possible. Complete digitisation of TV services in the country is expected to bring about more transparency in the system that would benefit all.

Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) president and Zee MD Punit Goenka said, "We welcome all stakeholders into the dawn of a new era and hope that the digitisation bandwagon continues unabated in Phase IV as well, which is to be implemented from 1 January 2017."

IBF, an apex body of broadcasting companies, has been involved in the cases filed in various courts that were finally transferred to the Delhi High Court under the direction of the Supreme Court. "We were hit by a flurry of litigations, all filed within a space of 15 days beginning with 30 December 2015, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Stays were obtained on implementation for periods of up to two months. Soon, the fire spread to 18 other high courts with over 50 petitions being filed," said IBF secretary-general Girish Srivastava.

Welcoming the judgement, Siti Networks Limited ED & CEO and president of All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) VD Wadhwa said, "This is a landmark moment in the Digital India journey as it will clear the passage for timely implementation of DAS Phase IV. It is now obligatory on part of broadcasters and other players to disconnect analog signals within two weeks. This will also pave the way for digital revenues to flow in from these areas." AIDCF is an industry body representing digital MSOs.

According to Hinduja Group CEO-Media Tony DSilva, “It’s a positive step in the direction of digitisation. I would appreciate if MIB comes out with a clarification on final cut-off date for digitisation and be more realistic in the dates for Phase IV.”

DEN CEO S N Sharma, terming the court direction as positive, said that the demand (for STBs) would increase as the legal question marks over DAS have been cleared.

Background To Legal Cases Relating to Digitisation

A total of 62 cases had been filed in different courts and 29 cases had been transferred by various courts to Delhi by July-end. Of the 62 cases, 12 had been disposed off by respective courts and three cases had been withdrawn by the petitioners.

While the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Court had given orders extending the deadline of 31 December 2015 for Phase III, the Bombay High Court, while referring to a judgement, had said that if similar situation prevails in all states, then the stay can be pan-India. This was because the plea taken by petitioners in high courts was shortage of STBs.

 Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) had admitted that the Law Ministry had observed the order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court staying Phase III “appears to have all-lndia applicability”.

Indiantelevision.com had reported in January this year that MIB had told the Punjab and Haryana High Court it had “decided not to press the requirement of having a STB as for now till the decision of the cases, which are pending before various other high courts”.

Sensing the wildfire effect the DAS Phase III cases could have, MIB approached Supreme Court with a plea to transfer all similar cases to one high court and the apex court asked Delhi High Court in April 2016 to handle these cases and directed notices to be sent to all other high courts to forward relevant files to Delhi HC.

Also Read:

DAS cases put off to 23 Nov as legal processes incomplete

Siti Networks CEO V.D. Wadhwa hails dismissal of DAS III cases by Delhi HC

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