SUMAN SHYAM,J. -
(1.) Heard Mr. M. Choudhury, learned senior counsel assisted by Mr. N. C. Das, learned counsel appearing for the writ petitioners in WP(C) No.5269/2017. I have also heard Mr. S. Saikia, learned counsel assisted by Mr. B. Bagchi, learned counsel appearing for the writ petitioner No.2 in WP(C) No.468/2017. Mr. N. Dutta, learned senior counsel has appeared for the respondent Nos.18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, 36, 37, 39, 44, 47, 48, 55, 56, 57, 58, 70, 79, 89, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 105, 107, 111, 113, 114, 115 and 116 whereas, Mr. A. K. Sharma, learned senior counsel has appeared for the respondent No.78. Mr. P. K. Borah, learned counsel has appeared for respondent Nos.11, 20, 32, 35, 40, 41, 58, 65 and 103. I have also heard Mr. S. C. Keyal, learned Assistant Solicitor General of India as well as Mr. D. C. Borah, learned Central Govt. Counsel, appearing for the official respondents.
(2.) Both these writ petitions are founded on inter-connected facts raising certain identical questions of law and hence, I propose to dispose of the same by this common judgment.
(3.) The essential facts necessary for appreciating the controversy involved in both the writ petitions are briefly narrated herein below:- (a) The Director General of Doordarshan, Prasar Bharati, had earlier issued a set of guidelines in the year 2011 for processing and approval of commissioned programmes for telecast in the North East (NE) Channels of the Doordarshan. The guidelines of 2011, inter alia, laid down that 75% of the notified programmes would be earmarked exclusively for the residents of North East whereas the remaining 25% were meant for open competition on merit. The processing fee for evaluating each of those programmes was fixed at Rs. 5000/-.
(b) The guidelines of 2011 were replaced by a new set of guidelines for the commissioned programmes for telecast in North East DD Channel which were uploaded in the official website of the Directorate General, Doordarshan, Prasar Bharati, on 28.12.2016. As per clause 4.7 of the new guidelines (here-in-after referred to as the "guidelines of 2016") 50% of the notified programmes were reserved for the North East residents and the remaining 50% were left open for general category. Clause 7 of the guidelines of 2016 had also enhanced the processing fee for evaluating each programme to Rs. 25,000/-.
(c) Clause 8.1 of the revised guidelines provides that evaluation of the programmes would be done by a six member committee to be headed by a Chairperson and each committee will have one member not below the rank of Joint Secretary from the Ministry of DoNER. As per Clause 8.1, the Doordarshan may ask the applicant/ producer to be present in person and make presentation of the programme proposal submitted by him/her. That apart, Clause 16.2 of the guidelines of 2016 provides that such producers who would lodge complaints against the commissioning undertaken by the Doordarshan would be disqualified from commissioning for a period of two years if the complaint is found to be frivolous or mischievous.
(d) Clause 16.6 of the new guidelines further lays down that a regular employee of a private T.V. Channel operating in India is not permitted to produce any programme for Prasar Bharati.
(e) Following the guidelines of 2016, the Prasar Bharati had issued a "Request for Proposal" (RFP) on 28.12.2016 inviting program proposals from reputed producers/production houses for telecast in the upcoming satellite channel viz. "DD Arunprabha" to be operated from the State of Arunachal Pradesh under fixed budget mode of commissioned programme.
(f) The notification dated 28.12.2016 indicated seven categories or "genre" in respect of which RFPs had been called for, indicating the duration of the episodes in terms of minutes and also the episodic price in lakhs. The seven "genre" indicated in the RFP dated 28.12.2016 are (i) Daily Soap/Serials, (ii) Thrillers, (iii) Mythological Serials, (iv) Telefilms, (v) Quiz Shows/Magazine Formats with celebrity anchor person, (vi) Travelogue : (a) Documentary format, and (b) With Celebrity, and (vii) Reality Show.
(g) The challenge made in WP(C) No. 468/2017 pertains to the validity of the clauses 4.7, 7, 8.1 , 8.2, 16.2 and 16.6 of the guidelines of 2016 on the ground that those were not only discriminatory but were also contrary to the policy of the Government which is aimed at protecting the interest of the producers from the North East India.
(h) W.P.(c) No WP(C) No.5267/2017 has been instituted by six petitioners who are the sole proprietors of the respective production houses engaged in the business of making films, TV serials, Documentary, Travel Shows etc. All these petitioners had participated in the evaluation process in response to the RFP dated 28.12.2016 and were amongst the 309 shortlisted production houses for final selection of the commissioned programmes to be telecast in "DD Arunprabha". However, the proposals of all these writ petitioners did not find place in the final select list published by the respondents on 21.07.2017. Aggrieved thereby, the writ petitioners have approached this Court by filing WP(C) No.5267/2017 assailing the legality and validity of the select list dated 21.07.2017 as well as the process of selection undertaken by the authorities.;