The content of this judgement is written by Hritik Rana. He is a content writing intern at Legal Thirst.
The Petitioners were producers of the Bengali film, Bhobishyoter Bhoot. The film was scheduled to release in Kolkata and some districts of West Bengal on 15th February. On February 11th, 2019, the directors and producers of the movie received a letter from the Joint Commissioner of Police (Intelligence) in the Special Branch which asked the producers to arrange a private screening for a few senior officials before February 12th, 2019, as they have received a letter which raises concerns about law & order in the State post the release of this movie. The directors and producers of the movie replied that the said concern was already dealt with by the CBFC and it got the U/A. There was no word from the executive post this reply.
On 16 February 2019, the film was simultaneously removed from theatres by an overwhelming number of exhibitors, and tickets were refunded. Allegedly, this was due to instructions by “higher authorities.” The Petitioners, therefore, filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court alleging violation of their rights
Does such an unofficial and an extrajudicial ban on the release of a film certified to be released by the authority amount to a violation of the Rule of Law?
Will such a ban encroach upon the protection of fundamental rights such as Art.14 (equality before law), 19(1)(g) (freedom to trade or business), and 21 (protection of life and liberty).
The court firstly highlighted the importance of the freedom of expression in a democracy by referring to the philosophical and literary writings, citing Voltaire, Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir among many others. The court also explained that the Constitution is meant to protect the creative expression of those engaged in human endeavor in the areas of fine art and culture. The right to information or the right to know is an intrinsic facet of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Hence, the authorities hindering the screening of the film violated both the right of freedom of expression as well as the public’s right of being informed.
Lifting the unofficial ban imposed on the film, the court ordered the authorities to ensure the security and protection of the cinema theatres releasing the film. In an unprecedented judgment, the court also directed the State to provide the compensation of Rs. 20 Lakhs and legal cost.
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