In a relief to elderly actors and entertainment crew, the Bombay High Court on Friday quashed and set aside conditions imposed by the Maharashtra government through two Government Resolutions (GR), which barred any cast or crew members above 65 years at the shooting site of fiction or non-fiction programming during a pandemic.
However, the court clarified that all advisories issued by the governments in view of Covid-19 pandemic for persons above 65 years of age, will be applicable to elderly cast or crew members visiting shooting sets.
A division bench of Justice S J Kathawalla and Justice R I Chagla on Friday passed ruling on the pleas challenging the restrictions. Along with actor Pramod Pandey (69), Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association (IMPPA) through advocate Ashok Saraogi also approached the HC seeking to quash and set aside conditions imposed by the government on May 30.
In its 16-page set of guidelines for producers to follow as and when they begin film and television production, the government had said that while actors above 65 will not be permitted on sets, no audience will be allowed for fiction or non-fiction programming.
Observing that the decision to prohibit artistes above 65 years of age from working at shooting sites is discriminatory, the High Court on July 24 had sought to know from the Maharashtra government that if it does not stop a senior citizen from opening shop and sitting there all day, then on what grounds was it not allowing artistes from working.
The bench had also enquired from the state government whether these restrictions, as per GRs, dated May 30 and June 23, were prohibitory/mandatory or advisory/recommendatory.
On July 29, the state government, responding to the pleas, had told the High Court that its decision to bar elderly cast and crew was not permanent and may change as per new unlock guidelines post-July 31. The state government, in its reply, had stated that the restriction was based on the Centre’s directive of May 30.
Government Pleader Purnima H Kantharia told the High Court that the guidelines were not discriminatory or arbitrary, however it was of temporary nature and in the interest of senior citizens. The guidelines for artistes were based on directives issued by the Centre in view of the Covid-19 pandemic and though they read as prohibition, no coercive action will be taken against elderly artists, Kantharia said.
The bench had appointed senior counsel Sharan Jagtiani as amicus curiae to assist it with the case. Jagtiani had said that the decision was based on lack of data, arbitrarily conceived and enforced as compared to other sectors and the state could have clarified that the same was recommendatory and not mandatory.
Jagtiani further said that the Centre’s guidelines were advisory and not mandatory, however same relaxations were not contained in the state’s May 30 order.
After hearing submissions, the court found that the conditions failed to satisfy requirements of Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution and observed restrictions on elderly persons were uniform, regardless of sector or activity prior to May 30 GR.
Justice Kathawalla, who authored the 37-page judgement for the bench, observed, “If there is no general prohibition on persons above the age of 65 years from working or practicing their trade in those sectors and businesses which are allowed to operate, an age-based prohibition in only one industry, namely the film industry/television/OTT, without any material to support its differential classification, would constitute an unreasonable restriction.”
In view of this, the bench said, “We are of the view that the impugned condition that seeks to apply to persons above the age of 65 who are engaged in only one occupation or trade but not to others of the same class, cannot be said to be a reasonable restriction.”
The court quashed and set aside conditions in GRs barring elderly artistes on sets. It clarified that all other advisories issued by governments for persons above 65 years will be applicable to the elderly cast and crew members from film, television and digital programming and disposed of the plea.
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