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Centre interfering with decisions of the censor board unconstitutional

Poster of the film Kaum de Heere/Sai Cine Productions (Twitter)
Date : 27/09/2019

HRLN
New Delhi

The Delhi high court observed that the limited provision in the Cinematograph Act allowing the Centre to interfere with decisions rendered by the Censor Board is unconstitutional. The high court’s ruling came on a plea filed by the makers of Punjabi film “Kaum de Heere” which was slated for release five years ago.

The film’s promoters had challenged the Censor Board’s August 2014 and Film Certification Appellate Tribunal’s October 2014 orders in which the film’s certification was withdrawn. The promoters contended that there was “no factual or legal basis for withdrawal of certificate” once the censor board had cleared the film.

What the high court said

“The reliance placed by the respondents upon Section 6(1) of the Cinematograph Act, is wholly misplaced. First of all, the said provision to the extent that it enables the Central Government to exercise revisional powers in respect of the decisions rendered by CBFC, has been held to be unconstitutional. Second, even if Section 6(1) of the Act was operative, the respondents had not followed the procedure as contemplated therein. The petitioner was not granted any opportunity to represent its views before the direction was issued,” high court judge Justice Vibhu Bakhru said.

On August 29, the high court set aside an order issued by the Central Board of Film Certification’s (CBFC) withdrawing the movie’s certification for public screening.

Justice Bakhru relied on Supreme Court judgments which said that once an expert body has considered the impact of a film on the public and cleared it for screening, it could not reverse its decision on the grounds that the film’s release would impact law and order.

The film – produced by the Sai Cine Production, allegedly glorifies Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. The film starring Raj Dhaliwal, Raj Kakra and Isha Sharma, ran into trouble when Vikramjit Chaudhary, then Punjab Youth Congress president protested and raised the issue with the Prime Minister’s Office. The Centre, then invoked its power under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act and banned the film’s release.

What the filmmakers said

Representing the production company, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and advocate Anupradha Singh argued that the Censor Board’s Chairperson had no review power or cancel the certificate once it was issued. Gonsalves said that CBFC issued a certificate after watching the film on two occasions.

Gonsalves argued that there was no provision in the act which empowered the Chairperson to withdraw certification granted to a film after it passed the Revising Committee’s scrutiny. The film had not violated any guidelines and blocking the film’s release would tantamount to violation of the makers’ fundamental right to free speech and expression, he added.

What the Censor Board said

The Censor Board however defended its decision to ban the film relying on Section 6(2) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 which empowered the central government ban a film that was deemed to be an uncertified film in any part or the whole of India.

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