The Bombay High Court on Wednesday questioned the state government in light of an affidavit filed by the Deputy Secretary, Home Department in a PIL filed by Jainendra Baxi challenging the rule imposed by multiplexes on moviegoers of not carrying any outside food, thereby, forcing them to buy food from private vendors at exorbitant prices.
A division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Anuja Prabhudessai questioned the state government’s retraction from its earlier stand of allowing outside food and water to be carried inside theatres.
The high court had earlier observed that movie goers cannot be compelled to buy food items at exorbitant prices from private vendors. Thereafter, a statement was made on behalf of the State in the Legislative Assembly that multiplexes and cinema halls have been directed to allow outside food.
However, in the said affidavit dated August 7, Venkatesh Bhat, Deputy Secretary, Home Department, stated that allowing outside food would pose a security threat.
The affidavit states-
“With regards to the reliefs the Petitioner is seeking and the suggestions submitted by him and the affidavit-in-reply submitted by the Respondent No. 3 to the suggestions given by the Petitioner, the State Government has taken decision that there is no reason to change the provisions of Maharashtra Cinema (Regulations) Rules 1966.”
According to the affidavit, as per the opinion of Director General of Police, carrying own food may create chaos and may lead to security issue. The affidavit further states that the government had received various representations about the excessive rates charged by owners in cinema theatres, therefore “In order to mitigate these complaints and provide food and water at the acceptable rates, government will direct owners to ensure provision of safe and potable free drinking water, adhering to MRP for the packed foods and providing food at affordable rates.”
However, it is clearly stated in the affidavit that there will be no interference as to the present rules prohibiting outside food inside theatres.
“It is further submitted that after taking into consideration of the "Maharashtra Cinema (Regulations) Rules, 1966" and the facts mentioned in the above paragraph, the present rules are self-explanatory. It is further submitted that there is no provision in the Maharashtra Police Act, 1951, whereby the competent authority can regulate the selling price of food items sold in cinema theatre.”
The court was not too pleased with this U-turn on part of the state government. The court said-
“How is this a security threat, explain to us how a person carrying food from home to the multiplex can pose a security threat? By prohibiting them from carrying home cooked food, you are compelling them to have junk food.”
Petitioner’s advocate Aditya Pratap informed the bench on Wednesday about a judgment of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court permitting outside food in theatres.
Whereas, Government Pleader Poornima Kantharia, informed the bench that the J&K High Court order had been challenged and was pending before the apex court.
The court will now wait for the Supreme Court’s order on the issue and has directed the petitioner’s advocate to file a rejoinder.