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Authorities fail to file objections in case seven months after HC stayed order for weekends.
Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif starrer Tiger Zinda Hai is running to packed houses and ticket prices range anywhere between Rs 300 and Rs 500. The second installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, The Last Jedi, has raked in over $800 million globally – in part due to ticket prices in Bengaluru which were a shade under Rs 400. Whatever happened to the chief minister’s promise – and a subsequent government order – of capping cinema hall ticket prices at Rs 200?
Turns out, it was all bunkum.
In May, the state government had announced the cap with much fanfare. However, the order was challenged and a vacation bench judge stayed the government order (GO) within a week of it being issued; the HC exempted multiplexes from the Rs 200 cap on weekends.
The court gave the government four weeks to file its objections to the petition filed by the multiplexes. Seven months later, the High Court is now in its winter vacation and no objection has been filed — the government seems to have blissfully forgotten to pursue the case.
The Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce (KFCC) was at the forefront of the demand for a cap on ticket prices, especially in multiplexes. Vice-president of KFCC, Umesh Banakar, said: “It is my personal opinion. The state government has nothing to gain by filing its objection to the case. GST was implemented after this price cap order. Kannada films came under the tax net and the government is earning more tax. Why will it jeopardise this situation by supporting the price cap? I am sure the government will push this stay situation as far as possible without taking any action.”
The Under Secretary to the Kannada & Culture and Information Department had issued the government order that was challenged in the Karnataka High Court by the FICCI Multiplex Association of India, Delhi, and the director of Inox Leisure Ltd, Vadodara. The order limited film ticket prices to Rs 200 each (excluding tax).
It is not just a matter of tax revenue. The GO is unlikely to stand scrutiny of the court. That is said to be the reason for the government trying to forget that there is a case pending.
Ex-president of KFCC and exhibitor, KV Chandrashekar said, “The GO was passed by the Under Secretary citing the chief minister’s budget speech. The price cap had to be introduced by amending the Karnataka Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1964, or the Entertainment Tax Act. Neither was done. It is prima facie clear to the government as well as the multiplexes that this government order is not of any value. So they are biding their time. The government cannot argue this case on merits. If it could have, it would have filed objections and taken the case forward by now.”
There is a similar example where the authorities failed in implementing their order. Based on a letter by the police commissioner, the deputy commissioner had issued an order to close all film screening at 11 pm. “Some theatres started their last shows at 10 pm which is the deadline as per law. The same law does not specify what time the shows should end. The DC’s order was challenged by the theatres and the court censured the authorities. It said that if they had public interest in mind they should have amended the relevant laws. Orders cannot be passed based on letters exchanged between two public servants. The same applies to the GO on ticket prices,” said Chandrashekar.
It is not just in Karnataka that ticket prices are an issue between the public, government and film exhibitors. There are cases by public bodies, exhibitors and film makers pending in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh too. Cap on ticket prices exists in Tamil Nadu and AP. But those are regulated under the relevant laws unlike Karnataka which rushed in to issuing an unsustainable order.
Advocate GR Mohan, who has handled cases related to Kannada films in the High Court said, “Even if there was no stay by the High Court, there was no reason for the theatres or multiplexes to follow this GO. It does not have legal sanctity. It is only a trick by the government to avoid talking about it. Since the case is pending, all your government officers and politicians will tell you that since the matter is sub judice, they cannot talk about it.”
“The issue pending before the court is a convenient situation. It is a secret as well as a weakness to say ‘no comments’ now. If the government is really serious about a price cap and has the will, it can withdraw the order issued in May and follow the proper procedure and amend the required law and implement it,” says Chandrashekar.
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