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Actor and filmmaker Amol Palekar has challenged pre-censorship of theatre performances, conducted by the Maharashtra State Performance Scrutiny Board under various provisions of the Bombay Police Act, 1951. He said this restricted freedom of speech and expression.
In a petition filed in the Bombay High Court, Palekar has said, “Numerous plays have suffered the illegal action on part of the Maharashtra State Performance Scrutiny Board, such as Rakhee Pakharu written by Dr Uday Nirgudkar and Tuka Abhang Abhang written by Surya Wagah. As a result, the petitioner has not been able to appreciate the play in its original form.”
Under Section 33(1)(wa) of the Bombay Police Act, the commissioner of police or superintendent of police has enacted rules for Licensing and Controlling Places of Public Amusement (other than cinemas) and Performance for Public Amusement, including Melas and Tamashas.
These rules, for regulation in the interest of “public order, decency or morality”, make prior scrutiny of such performances and of the script mandatory. After scrutiny, a certificate is issued subject to conditions. “The objections in relation to the script and the performance are left completely to the subjective satisfaction of the members,” states Palekar. The petition came up for hearing before a division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice M S Sonak, which adjourned it for a week. “This pre-censorship leads to curtailment of artistic freedom. Because of this, many historic plays have not been performed in its original form,” the petition said.
“The provision of Section 33(1) (wa) does not prescribe any guidelines for formulation of rules. It is, therefore, violative of Article 14 (Equality before Law),” adds the petition, further stating that scripts of plays have been subjected to pre-censorship only by boards of Maharashtra and Gujarat.