M/S Prakash Jha Productions & Anr Vs Union Of India & Ors.
Petitioners challenged the legality of the decision of the Uttar Pradesh Government suspending the screening of the film ‘Aarakshan’ in the entire State of Uttar Pradesh. Petitioners contended that the exercise of power of suspension of the screening of the film amount to exercising the power of pre-censorship which is being exercised by the Government, although no such power vested on it.
The said power of censorship is vested in the Central Board of Film Certification, (“the Board”) and in the Central Government as provided for in the provisions made in The Cinematograph Act, 1952.
On the other hand, State of Uttar Pradesh submitted that a very high-level Committee had seen the film and there after had given an opinion, according to which if and when the concerned film was shown there is likelihood of breach of peace and also breach of law and order situation and, therefore, the decision of suspending the screening of the film “Aarakshan” in Uttar Pradesh, which had been taken in order to preserve and upkeep the law and order situation in the State should be upheld.
Adverting to the facts of the case, the Supreme Court observed that the film ‘Aarakashan’ was submitted to the Central Board of Film Certification on 12.07.2011 for certification. Upon such submission of the film, the Chairperson of the Board, in terms of the provisions of the Act and the Rules, invited the legal expert and another expert who is related to dalit movement to watch the film at the time when the Examining Committee was previewing the film. The experts as also the Examining Committee gave their approval for grant of censorship certificate and screening of the film. The Examining Committee decided to give U/A certificate to the film under the theme category “social”. The certification was granted and a certificate was issued for screening of the film.
The Supreme Court held that the power as vested under Section 6 of the U.P. Cinemas (Regulation) Act could not have been exercised by the State of Uttar Pradesh in view of the fact that the said film was not being exhibited publicly in the theatre halls in U.P. Consequently, at that stage, when the film had not even been screened or exhibited in the theatre halls publicly and for public viewing, neither an opinion could be formed nor any decision could be taken that there is a likelihood of breach of peace by exercising power purported under Section 6 of the Act.
After referring to the relevant portions of earlier cases of the Supreme Court in S . Rangaranjan Vs. P . Jagjivan Ram & Ors. (1989) 2 SCC 574 and Union of India Vs. K.M. Shankarappa (2001) 1 SCC 582, the Supreme Court observed that in the present case, the Examining Committee of the Board had seen the film along with the experts and only after all the members of the Committee as also the two experts gave positive views on the screening of the film, thereafter only the certificate was granted. Therefore, since the expert body had already found that the aforesaid film could be screened all over the country, the Supreme Court held that the opinion of the High Level committee for deletion of some of the scenes/words from the film amounted to exercising power of precensorship, which power was not available either to any high-level expert committee of the State or to the State Government.
The Supreme Court concluded that once the Board had cleared the film for public viewing, screening of the same could not be prohibited in the manner as sought to be done by the State in the instant case. The Supreme Court thus set aside and quashed the decision of the State Government suspending the screening of the film ‘Aarakshan’ in the State of Uttar Pradesh.