On September 14, 2012 the government announced a new FDI policy for the broadcasting sector. Under the policy, FDI up to 74% has been allowed in broadcasting infrastructure services. Previously the maximum level of FDI permitted in most infrastructure services in the sector was 49% through automatic route. There could be three reasons for the increase in FDI in the sector. First, the broadcasting sector is moving towards an addressable (digital) network. As per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), this upgradation could cost Rs 40,000 crore. Second, the increase in FDI was mandated because a higher FDI was allowed for telecommunication services, which too are utilised for broadcast purposes. In telecommunications 74% FDI is allowed under the approval route. Third, within the broadcasting sector, there was disparity in FDI allowed on the basis of the mode of delivery. These issues were referred to by TRAI in detail in its recommendations of 2008 and 2010. Recent history of FDI in broadcasting services In 2008 and 2010 TRAI had recommended an increase in the level of FDI permitted. A comparison of recommendations and the new policy is provided below. As noted in the table, FDI in services that relate to establishing infrastructure, like setting up transmission hubs and providing services to the customers, is now at 49% under automatic route and 74% with government approval. FDI in media houses, on the other hand, have a different level of FDI permitted. TRAI’s recommendations on the two aspects of FDI in broadcasting Digitisation of cable television network: The Cable Televisions Networks Act, 1995 was amended in 2011 to require cable television networks to be digitised. By October 31, 2012 all cable subscriptions in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata are required to be digitised. The time frame for digitisation for the entire country is December 31, 2014. However, this requires investment to establish infrastructure. As per the TRAI 2010 report, there are a large number of multi-system operators (who receive broadcasting signals and transmit them further to the cable operator or on their own). As per the regulator, this has led to increased fragmentation of the industry, sub-optimal funding and poor services. Smaller cable operators do not have the resources to provide set-top boxes and enjoy economies of scale. As per news reports, the announcement of higher FDI permission would enable the TV distribution industry to meet the October 31 deadline for mandatory digitisation in the four metros. Diversity in television services: FDI in transmitting signals from India to a satellite hub for further transmission (up-linking services) has not been changed. This varies on the basis of the nature of the channel. For non-news channels, FDI up to 100% with government approval was allowed even under the previous policy. However, the FDI limit for news channels is 26% with government approval. In 2008 TRAI had recommended that this be increased to 49%. However, it reviewed its position in 2010. It argued that since FM and up-linking of news channels had the ability to influence the public, the existing FDI level of 26% was acceptable. It also relied upon the level of FDI permitted in the press, stating that parity had to be maintained between the two modes of broadcast. Under the new policy the level of FDI permitted in these sectors has not been changed.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.