Court lifts ban on smoking in films, upholds filmmakers rights (Lead)

January 23rd, 2009 - 9:58 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 23 (IANS) The Delhi High Court Friday quashed the central government’s notification banning smoking in films on grounds that it violates the fundamental rights of filmmakers, bringing much relief to directors and producers.A single judge bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed that banning smoking in films violated filmmakers’ fundamental rights of freedom of expression and speech as enshrined in the Constitution of India.

“Directors of films should not have multifarious authorities breathing down their necks when indulging in a creative act,” Kaul said while striking down the rules framed by the central government in October 2006 that banned on-screen smoking.

Justice Kaul passed the order as an umpire judge after a division bench had earlier given a split verdict on Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt’s petition challenging the curbs imposed by the government.

“The constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression to all its citizens, which is (most) important of all fundamental rights. The concept of censorship itself is a deviation and due care has been taken to incorporate the discouragement of any propagation or advertisement of smoking by incorporating the relevant provisions in the guidelines of the censor board,” the order stated.

Justice Kaul said: “Films should depict reality of life and smoking plays a vital role in our day-to-day lives and law should not interfere in this.”

“Films only motive is not to impart education but also to depict real life and these days smoking, drinking and gambling are common so why hide these things,” he said in his 50-page order.

Reacting to the verdict, Mahesh Bhatt told IANS: “I am very happy. The court has reassured its faith in people like us who belong to the film society. They have let us believe that they won’t let anybody rob our freedom of self-expression.

“I would like to assure the ministry of health that with the new ruling coming into action, we filmmakers are not just going to show unnecessary puffing and tobacco consumption on-screen but only when and where it is required.”

The health ministry had in May 2005 proposed the ban by notifying the Cigarette and Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Amendment Rules 2005.

In another notification, the ministry said the rules would come into effect from Oct 2, 2005. This had been challenged by Bollywood director and producer Mahesh Bhatt in September 2005.

Bhatt’s lawyer Sandeep Sethi contended before the court that movies were for the general public and banning particular scenes amounted to violation of the fundamental rights of a filmmaker.

He said the Cinematograph Act 1952 and the Cinematograph (certification) Rules 1983 were sufficient to regulate the film industry and similarly, the Cable Television Rules 1994 was a comprehensive legislation regulating the cable television network in the country.

However, keeping public health in mind, the government had drafted the policy to discourage smoking among people.

“Children below the age of 18 years are not allowed to buy cigarettes and scenes showing the hero smoking would encourage the act,” the central government had said.

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