It is no longer mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anthem before screening a film.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra Tuesday modified the November 30, 2016 order which had made the playing of national anthem in cinema halls mandatory. That bench too was headed by Justice Dipak Misra, but as a judge of the Supreme Court — before his elevation as CJI.
Under the modified order, it will now be up to cinema hall owners whether or not to play the national anthem. The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, made it clear, however, that movie-goers will have to show respect to the anthem in case it is played, and they will have to stand.
After hearing arguments, which lasted over an hour, the court disposed the writ petition with five directions:
“(i) The Committee appointed by the Union government shall submit its recommendations to the competent authority in terms of the Notification dated 5th December, 2017, for follow-up action.
(ii) The order passed on 30th November, 2016, is modified to the extent that playing of the National Anthem prior to the screening of feature films in cinema halls is not mandatory, but optional or directory.
(iii) Since the Committee constituted by the Union government is looking into all aspects of the matter, it shall make its recommendations uninfluenced by the interim directions of this Court, as clarified in our order dated 23rd October, 2017. Similarly, the competent authority shall in taking its decision(s) not be constrained or influenced by any of the interim directions.
(iv) Citizens or persons are bound to show respect as required under executive orders relating to the National Anthem of India and the prevailing law, whenever it is played or sung on specified occasions, and
(v) The exemption granted to disabled persons shall remain in force till the final decision of the competent authority with regard to each occasion whenever the National Anthem is played or sung.”
This came a day after the Centre, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court, asked it to reconsider its order making it mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anthem before screening of films. The Centre said an inter-ministerial committee was being asked to look into the matter and the government would take a call once the committee submitted its recommendations in six months. This was conveyed to the Supreme Court in an affidavit filed by Deepak Kumar, Under Secretary in the Union Home Ministry.
In 2016, while ruling on a petition by Shyam Narayan Chouksey, the bench said that playing the national anthem would “instil” a “sense of committed patriotism and nationalism”. It led to a debate and Kerala’s Kodungallur Film Society approached the Supreme Court, seeking recall of the order.
On Tuesday, Anoop Kumaran, who had moved the appeal on behalf of the film society, said they were happy over the court’s decision to modify its earlier order. “Our appeal against the Supreme Court order was a small step. But it could make a big impact in protecting democracy, secularism and plurality of the country. Patriotism should be kept separate from bigotry. We hail the government move to form a committee to look into the issue,’’ Kumaran said.
Earlier, appearing in court Monday, Attorney General K K Venugopal told the bench that “in my suggestion, the word shall in the order could be changed to may, leaving it to cinemas to play or not to play” the national anthem.
Chouksey contended that there were several lacunae in the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 as it does not define what constitutes disrespect to the national anthem. “The Act only says what constitutes disrespect to the national flag and Constitution. In the case of national anthem, only limited explanations are given,” Chouksey’s counsel Abhinav Srivastava told the bench.
“Some ask why people have to wear patriotism on their sleeve, why do people have to stand for national anthem. There are instances where even constitutional dignitaries are sitting when the anthem is sung. The court may decide if sitting through the anthem is disrespect. That has not been considered,” Srivastava said.
The bench drew the attention of the counsel to the Flag Code of India but Srivastava replied that these were executive orders and were never implemented. “These are executive orders which are not being implemented because they don’t have the force of law,” he said.
Venugopal pointed out that it was not possible to codify instances when something would amount to disrespect of the national anthem and that it will have to be dealt with on a case-to-case basis.
“In my view, disrespect has to be decided on a case-to-case basis. It can’t be decided in advance… Court can’t conceive of a thousand ways in which it is done,” he said, adding that the petitioner could, however, take up his grievance with the committee constituted by the government.
In its affidavit, the Centre said the “committee has been constituted to look into all aspects relating to the singing or playing of the national anthem” and on receiving its recommendations, “the government may bring out the requisite notification or circular or rules in this regard, if required”.