(G.N.S) Dt. 18
The court also restrained any other States from issuing similar notifications and orders. The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the notifications and orders passed by certain States to prohibit the exhibition of the Censor Board-certified movie Padmaavat, saying the court’s “conscience is shocked” that States have guillotined creative rights.
The apex court ordered all States to ensure that public law and order situation is maintained during the screening of the film across the country.
The movie portrayed the 13th century historical battle between Maharaja Ratan Singh and his army of Mewar and Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi. Many factions were up in arms about the portrayal of Queen Padmavati in the film.
The court ordered the States to protect the artistes and the people involved in the movie from threats. It further forbade States from passing any order, notification which amounts to a prohibition of the exhibition of the movie.
Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said a film may bomb at the box office or people may choose to not watch it, but the States cannot use its machinery to prohibit its exhibition citing risk to public order.
The three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice, quoting its judgment in the 2011 Prakash Jha judgment, observed in a detailed order that it is “the duty and obligation of the State to maintain law and order”.
“States, on the other hand, cannot issue notifications prohibiting the screening of a film,” Chief Justice Misra observed.
The court observed that the grant of certificate by the CBFC under the Cinematograph Act of 1952 denudes States of any power to exercise prohibition on the exhibition of the film.
The apex court held that “once the Parliament has conferred the responsibility and power on a statutory Board and the Board has certified the film, non-exhibition of the film by States is contrary to statutory provisions.”
The moviemakers had moved the court against the hostile moves made by BJP-ruled States of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh against the movie.
Gujarat and Rajasthan had issued notifications on January 5 and 17, respectively, prohibiting the screening. Haryana had in-principle agreed to a ban on exhibition. Madhya Pradesh had made statements that they intend to ban the screening of the movie in theatres.
The court dismissed the argument by Gujarat and Rajasthan, represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, that CBFC does not have the expertise or wherewithal to gauge security risks and public order situation when it certifies a movie for public screening in theatres. The States have a right to prevent “breach of peace”. Mr. Mehta quoted Section7 of the Rajasthan Cinemas Regulation Act of 1952 in this regard.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, for the movie producers, said the film was certified after changes, including in the title.
“States cannot throw the CBFC certificate in the dustbin. This is lawlessness. States cannot ban screening to appease their political constituency. This will lead to constitutional breakdown,” Mr. Salve submitted.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, also for the film makers, said “States cannot become super censors”.
“Certifying a film is a statutory act under a central law. States cannot defy the Supreme Court and encroach into Union territory merely because it is politically convenient,” Mr. Salve submitted.
He said there will probably come a day “when I can say I have the freedom of speech to distort history. The nation is not ready for it now”. Mr. Mehta immediately protested the submission, saying “this nation will never be ready. Imagine saying Gandhiji is sipping whisky”. “Surely you have to have watch the film Jesus Christ – Superstar'” Mr. Salve addressed Mr. Mehta. “That is not Indian standard!” Mr. Mehta hit back.
(G.N.S) Dt. 18