The central government on Tuesday asserted in the Supreme Court that paying respect to the national anthem is “non-negotiable” and that it is “everyone’s duty to stand up” when it is played. Submitting before a bench led by Justice Dipak Misra, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta called it “unfortunate” that a PIL had to be moved in the apex court for issuance of directions on showing respect to the national anthem.
“Any civilised and cultured country will take pride in its national anthem. It is very unfortunate that a petition had to be filed in a constitutional court in this regard. Pride for the national anthem is completely non-negotiable,” said Mehta.
Apart from appearing for the Centre, Mehta said he was also representing governments of Maharashtra and Rajasthan, which have supported the court order of November last year.
To instill “committed patriotism and nationalism”, the court had ordered that “all the cinema halls in India shall play the national anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the national anthem” as part of their “sacred obligation”.
Mehta said the governments of Maharashtra and Rajasthan were completely in favour of the direction and wanted to join as parties to the case to put across their points of view. The bench allowed the applications.
It also permitted PIL petitioner Shyam Narayan Chouksey to amend his writ petition. Senior lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi, who represented Chouksey, said he was pressing for a direction to the government for considering amendments to The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, so that insult to the national anthem could also become a penal offence.
“Insult to the national flag and the Constitution of India result in penal consequences but as far as national anthem is concerned, the Act talks only about preventing somebody from it and nothing about showing disrespect to it by various other acts. This distinction is not only violative of Article 14 (equality) but also fall foul of Article 51A that abides all citizens with showing respect to the anthem,” argued Dwivedi.
On the other hand, senior advocate C U Singh, who represented a film organisers’ association, sought recall of last year’s order, saying it amounted to “compelled singing” and the court encroached upon an area meant for executive and legislature, that have already provided for a law on the subject. The bench said that his application for recall shall be heard along with the writ petition when it is finally heard.
Meanwhile, on a plea by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, the court clarified that its order to stand when the anthem is being played will not apply to wheelchair-bound people and those suffering impairment such as autism, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, etc.
The bench also issued notice to the Centre on a similar PIL filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay for making Vande Mataram mandatory in schools and other educational institutions. The court asked the government to convey its stand in four weeks and posted all the matters for hearing in August.