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Wednesday, 07 December 2016 09:43

The Court announce the end of Phase III

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Finally the Phase III of Digitisation is over. On 7th December, the Delhi High Court today dismissed multiple petitions dealing with the extension for the deadline of Phase III beyond December 2015. The Court has made it easy for the I & B Ministry to officially declare the PHASE three as completed. As a result all analogue signals in Phase III areas will be ordered to be switched off and all subscribers will have to buy digital STBs costing from Rs 1500 to Rs 2500 to receive digital encrypted channels. 

The Honourable Delhi High Court, while disposing off all pending petitions, has directed all petitioners to run a scroll on their networks about digitization and switch off analogue signals in 2 weeks. All petitioners have also been directed to inform, the change-over from analogue to digital signals, to all their subscribers in advance.

With this order in hand the MIB is likely to announce Phase IV closed on 31 December, just three weeks ahead irrespective of situation on the ground which says that the seeding of STBs in Phase IV has been less than 50%. So the New Year will make India Digital on papers, a great achievement by the combine of the Ministry and the Pay broadcasters who have always been standing side by side in the courts.

 In a release IBF, the body representing large Pay broadcasters who claim 90% of television viewership said that it has been an uphill battle for the MIB and for members at the IBF who battled in the courts to achieve this success.  While originally, the date for implementation of DAS III was slated as 30th September 2014, it was extended to 31st December 2015 by a notification issued by MIB.

The present order paves way to end the analogue cable era in the phase III cities of Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh where many cases were filed by independent MSOs and cable operators to delay the closure of Phase III. The deadline for implementing digital addressable system (DAS) in the phase III cities had expired on December 31, 2015, which was challenged on the grounds on non-availability of set-top-boxes and others.

According to the IBF release, the MIB, the IBF members, MSOs and various other stakeholders worked very hard to prepare the ground for the eventual sunset of analogue in the largest part of the Country to date. It was challenging, with initial hiccups in the form of unavailability of Set Top Boxes, pending applications for MSO registrations.

 “When we thought the worst was behind us, we were hit by a flurry of litigations, all filed within a space of 15 days beginning with 30th December 2015 in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Stays were obtained on implementation for periods of up to 2 months. Soon the fire spread to 18 other High Courts with over 50 petitions being filed”, said IBF Secretary General, Mr. Girish Srivastava.

 The release further states IBF, supported by its members and external legal experts, worked hard in transferring all matters to the Delhi High Court as per the Order passed on 1st April 2016. Then, IBF lawyers set about the task of getting the registries of each of the High Courts to transfer the matters to the Delhi High Court. The first 4 in the batch of matters came up in May and the rest were listed in August 2016, on account of intervening vacations.

 Between the first date of listing and the final disposal of all these matters before 2 different courts - Single Judge and Division Bench - it took all of 3 months - a record by any standard. The IBF has also thanked the Delhi High Court for this order.

 Commenting on the development, the IBF President, Mr Punit Goenka said - “We welcome all stakeholders into the dawn of a new era and hope that the digitization bandwagon continues unabated in Phase IV as well, which is to be implemented from 1st January 2017.” 

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. There were no such cases in twenty states, the Task Force was told. Of the 62 cases, 12 had been disposed off by respective courts and 3 cases had been withdrawn by the petitioners.

 While the Andhra Pradesh and Telengana High Court had given orders extending the deadline of 31 December 2015 for Phase III, the Bombay High Court had referred to the Kusum Ingots judgment which had said that if similar situation prevails in all states, then the stay can be pan-India. This was because the plea taken in all High Courts was shortage of set top boxes.

 The Ministry had admitted in the Chandigarh High Court that the Law Ministry had observed that the order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court staying Phase III “appears to have all lndia applicability”. MIB had told the Punjab and Haryana high court that 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’

 However, the Ministry later approached the Supreme Court with a plea for transfer of all similar cases to Delhi High Court. The Supreme Court had, on 1 April, this year accepted the plea of the Central Government that "it would be just and proper for this court to transfer to Delhi High Court all the cases pending in different high courts, many of which had given injunction orders." Subsequently the apex court had asked Delhi High Court to handle these cases and directed notices to be sent to all other High Courts to forward the files to Delhi.

Last month the Court had over-ruled the orders passed by various other High Courts and vacated the stay granted for extension of digitization in DAS Phase 3. Rejecting all the eight cases seeking extension of Phase III of DAS implementation, the Delhi High Court on 3rd November had asked the MSOs to switch over to digital in the coming three weeks.

It may be recollected that on 5 October, the Delhi High Court had separated the cases between those that sought extension of time from the ones challenging the 2011 Notification for DAS implementation. The extension cases were being dealt by Justice Sachdeva, while the other cases are being heard by the division bench of the Chief Justice, G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal.

Stay granted on DAS Phase III deadline in various parts of the country by the high courts had temporarily stopped the implementation of DAS Phase III in some areas.  

Cases were dismissed as the Court noted that in many of these cases, the relief granted by the high courts had lapsed. The bench said that all such DAS Phases III cases in which extension granted by the respective HCs have expired will be dismissed. The Court also noted that operators had sufficient time to implement digitisation since 31 December 2015.

On 19 October, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) submitted a list before the bench, clearly demarcating the cases in the two categories. As per the MIB list, 22 cases challenged the DAS Phase III Notification and deadline, while 11 cases dealt only with the deadline. Meanwhile, the division bench that was hearing the petitions of Nasik Zilla Cable Operators’ Federation and Radiant Digitek had posted the cases along with other matters to 23 November. The two cases have been clubbed with 22 cases in which some cases are about constitutional validity of cable TV digitisation while some pertain to entertainment tax. There is no change in DAS Phase IV deadline, which continues to be 31 December 2016.

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