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UP told to allow screening of ‘Aarakshan’, Punjab, AP lift ban

August 19
03:39 2011

Aarakshan

NEW DELHI: Giving the go ahead for the screening of Amitabh Bachchan starrer ‘Aarakshan’ in Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court today quashed the ban imposed by the state, saying public discussion and dissent are necessary in a vibrant democracy.

A bench of justices Mukundakam Sharma and A R Dave lifted the state’s two-month ban on the film in UP holding that the restriction would go against the democratic value of free speech and expression.

Though UP government defended its decision, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, which had also stopped the film’s release, told the court that they have already decided to permit its screening.

“In a democracy, particularly in a vibrant democracy like ours, public discussion is necessary for its smooth running,” said the bench.

“In fact, such discussions bring awareness on social issues for effective working of the democracy. In fact, when there is such public discussion and dissent there would be a informed public opinion which is necessary for our society,” observed justice Sharma, while writing the order.

The apex court passed the order while upholding the writ petition filed by film maker Prakash Jha challenging the decision of UP, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. to suspend the screening of the film. . The apex court rejected counsel for UP, U U Lalit’s argument that the film’s screening would lead to breach of peace and affect the law and order in the state.

Lalit argued that the state was empowered to suspend the screening in the interest of law and order, even if the film has been okayed by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

The bench said the film has already been screened in all other states, including those which are considered to be “sensitive” to such feelings.

“It is for the state to maintain law and order. It shall maintain law and order effectively and in a meaningful manner,” the bench observed while directing the state to permit screening of the movie.

The apex court agreed with views of senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for the producer, that the state can suspend the screening of a film only in extraordinary cases.

The bench said the power of pre-censorship is vested with the CBFC alone.

Hence, it said, the high level committee constituted by the State government, which viewed the film and directed deletion of certain scenes, had exercised a power which was not vested with it.

Additional Solicitor General A S Chandhioke, appearing for the Centre, endorsed Salve’s view that the censorship powers was vested with the CBFC alone and any state having grievance over the contents of the film can seek a review of the certificate only by approaching the board which is a quasi-judicial authority.

The apex court had on August 16 sought responses of the Centre and the UP government on Jha’s petition challenging the state’s decision to ban screening of his film.

Jha’s film ‘Aarakshan’ was banned by three states, UP, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. The UP government had on August 10 banned the film for two months citing law and order problem.

Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, however, had lifted the ban later.

In his petition, Jha had asked whether the state governments can override the permission granted by the CBFC to exhibit a movie.

The petition contended the decision by the governments of UP, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh was due to political reasons and it violated the fundamental right to speech and expression.

The political thriller starring Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Vajpai, Prateek Babbar and Deepika Padukone was released on August 12 in other parts of the country.

Jha had sought a stay on the orders passed by the UP government banning the release of the film on the grounds of likelihood of hurting the feelings of weaker sections that could lead to law and order problems.

In the petition, Jha had said the examining committee of CBFC, which cleared the film for exhibition, comprised members drawn from the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and other backward castes and the ban by the three states is “biased and arbitrary”.

Seeking a stay on ban orders, Jha had cited various apex court judgements holding that “open criticism of the government policies and operations is not a ground for imposing restriction on expression of views even in the form of films.”

He said he has spent Rs 65 crores towards production, publicity and marketing of the film and third party rights for distribution and exploitation of the film have also been created. -PTI

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