M/S Prakash Jha Productions & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors.

The case talks about the legality of the decision of the Uttar Pradesh Government suspending the screening of the film 'Aarakshan' in the entire State of Uttar Pradesh under Section 6(1) of the U.P. Cinemas (Regulation) Act.
CITATION 
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice M. Sharma and Justice Anil Dave
DATE OF JUDGEMENT19.08.2011

Introduction

The state of Punjab, state of Andhra Pradesh, and state of Uttar Pradesh suspended the screening of the film ‘Aarakshan’ in their respective States for a specified period. The petition was filed quashing the order of States Government and to strike down the provision of Section 6(1) of the U.P. Cinemas (Regulation) Act. It was held that it was for the State to maintain law and order situation in the State and, therefore, the State would maintain it effectively and potentially. Once the Board had cleared the film for public viewing, screening of the same cannot be prohibited in the manner as sought to be done by the State in the present case.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: This writ petition is filed by the Petitioners praying for the relief’s that is sought for in this writ petition is to strike down the provision of Section 6(1) of the U.P. Cinemas (Regulation) Act being allegedly ultra vires to the Constitution of India. The other relief that is sought for is to quash and set aside the decisions taken by the Respondents, namely State of Punjab, State of Andhra Pradesh, and State of Uttar Pradesh suspending the screening of the film ‘Aarakshan’ in their respective States for a specified period. The court was informed by the counsel appearing for the State of Punjab and Andhra Pradesh that so far as their States are concerned, they had withdrawn the order of suspension of screening of the film ‘Aarakshan’.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether the provision of Section 6(1) of the U.P. Cinemas (Regulation) Act should be held unconstitutional?

Summary of court decision and judgment

In the present case, the Examining Committee of the Board had seen the film along with the experts and only after all the members of the Committee as also the two experts gave positive views on the screening of the film, thereafter only the certificate was granted. Therefore, since the expert body has already found that the aforesaid film could be screened all over the country, we find the opinion of the High-Level Committee for deletion of some of the scenes/words from the film amounted to exercising the power of pre-censorship, which power is not available either to any high-level expert committee of the State or to the State Government. It appears that the State Government through the High-Level Committee sought to sit over and override the decision of the Board by proposing the deletion of some portion of the film, which power is not vested at all with the State.

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It is for the State to maintain law and order situation in the State and, therefore, the State shall maintain it effectively and potentially. Once the Board has cleared the film for public viewing, screening of the same cannot be prohibited in the manner as sought to be done by the State in the present case. The court, therefore, had set aside and quashed the decision of the State Government suspending the screening of the film ‘Aarakshan’ in the State of Uttar Pradesh in the light of the observations made and the petition was partly allowed to that extent.

Analysis

The counsel for the petitioner has not pressed the prayer so far as the constitutional validity of Section 6 of the Act is concerned. He, however, has challenged the legality of the decision of the Uttar Pradesh Government suspending the screening of the film ‘Aarakshan’ in the entire State of Uttar Pradesh. The aforesaid exercise of the power of suspension of the screening of the film amounts to exercising the power of pre-censorship which is being exercised by the Government, although no such power is vested on it. According to him, the said power of censorship is vested in the Central Board of Film Certification, and in the Central Government as provided for in the provisions made in The Cinematograph Act, 1952. He has also submitted that the power that is sought to be exercised in the present case under Section 6(1) of the Act is also without jurisdiction as such power could be exercised only when a film is being screened and shown in the public hall and also when a contingency of nature as mentioned in the said Section arises. He submits that on satisfying the preconditions and only in such a situation power is vested in the State Government to suspend the screening of the film for a specified period. He also submits that the aforesaid decision of the State Government is in violation of the provisions of Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India and, therefore, the same is required to be struck down and quashed.

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Section 6(1) of the Uttar Pradesh Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1955 reads as follows:

“6. Power to the State Government or District Magistrate to suspend exhibition of films in certain cases – (1) The State Government, in respect of the whole of the State of Uttar Pradesh or any part thereof, and the District Magistrate in respect of the district within his jurisdiction may, if it or he, as the case may be, is of opinion that any film which is being publicly exhibited, is likely to cause a breach of the peace, by order, suspend the exhibition of the films and thereupon the films shall not during such suspension be exhibited in the State, part or the district concerned, notwithstanding the certificate granted under the Cinematograph Act, 1952.”

Upon going through the records, it was found that the film ‘Aarakashan’ was submitted to the Central Board of Film Certification on 12.07.2011 for certification. Upon such submission of the film, the Chairperson of the Board, in terms of the provisions of the Act and the Rules, invited the legal expert and another expert who is related to Dalit movement to watch the film at the time when the Examining Committee was previewing the film. The Chairperson also saw to it that all the four members of the Examining Committee are members belonging to scheduled casts/scheduled tribes and the OBC category. The said members of the Examining Committee along with the legal expert as also the expert related to Dalit movement were present during the preview of the film. The experts as also the Examining Committee gave their approval for a grant of censorship certificate and screening of the film. The Examining Committee decided to give U/A certificate to the film under the theme category “social”.

When it is said that a film is being publicly exhibited, it definitely pre-supposes a meaning that the film is being exhibited for the public, and in doing so if it is found to likely to cause a breach of peace then in that event, such a power could be exercised by the State Government. Such an extra-ordinary power cannot be exercised with regard to a film which is yet to be exhibited openly and publicly in a particular State. The word ‘suspension’ envisages something functional or something which is being shown or is running. The suspension is always a temporary phase, which gets obliterated as and when the previous position is restored. Therefore, the power as vested under Section 6 of the Act could not have been exercised by the State of Uttar Pradesh in view of the fact that the said film was not being exhibited publicly in the theatre halls in U.P. Consequently, at this stage, when the film is not screened or exhibited in the theatre halls publicly and for public viewing, neither an opinion could be formed nor any decision could be taken that there is a likelihood of breach of peace by exercising power purported under Section 6 of the Act.

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Conclusion

It was considered that reservation is one of the social issues and in a vibrant democracy like ours, public discussions and debate on social issues are required and are necessary for the smooth functioning of a healthy democracy. Such discussions on social issues bring in awareness which is required for the effective working of democracy. In fact, when there is a public discussion and there is some dissent on these issues, an informed and better decision could be taken which becomes a positive view and helps the society to grow.