12 May 2023 9:29 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the States of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu on a writ petition filed by the makers of the controversial film 'The Kerala Story' challenging the decision of the West Bengal Government to ban the movie. The makers also alleged that the movie was facing a 'shadow' ban in Tamil Nadu and sought protection for screening the film in the southern state.A...
The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the States of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu on a writ petition filed by the makers of the controversial film 'The Kerala Story' challenging the decision of the West Bengal Government to ban the movie. The makers also alleged that the movie was facing a 'shadow' ban in Tamil Nadu and sought protection for screening the film in the southern state.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha posted the matter to next Wednesday.
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the producer of the film Sunshine Productions, said that on the date of the release of the movie, the Chief Minister of West Bengal made a statement against it, saying that it is against a community and the exhibition can cause law and order problems. The State banned the film after it ran for three days without any problems. Salve further said that in Tamil Nadu, the film is facing a "de facto ban", as the exhibitors have withdrawn the movie after threats.
Senior Advocate Dr.Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the State of West Bengal, said that in all other matters relating to the same film, the Supreme Court had asked the parties to move the High Court, and the producer should also be asked to move the approach the High Court to maintain the discipline. Singhvi also said that there are intelligence reports regarding threats of law and order problems.
This submission prompted a comment from CJI :
"The film is released in the rest of the country. West Bengal is not different from other parts of the Country. If it can run on other parts of the country, why should the State of West Bengal ban the film? If the public does not think that the film is worth seeing, they will not see it. It is running in other parts of the country which have similar demographic profile as West Bengal. Why should you not allow a film to run?".
Singhvi said that the State has power under Section 6 of the West Bengal Cinemas (Regulation) Act 1954 and opposed the grant of stay.
CJI however said that the Court will not pass any interim order without hearing the State.
To Advocate Amit Anand Tiwari, Additional Advocate General of Tamil Nadu, the CJI asked : "We would like to know from you, what are the specific administrative arrangements to ensure safety. The state government cannot say that we'll look the other way while theatres are being attacked, chairs being burnt. You are duty bound to ensure security".
The bench asked the State of Tamil Nadu to file an affidavit regarding the steps taken by it.
On May 8, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee had announced the decision to ban the screening of the movie "to avoid any incident of hatred and violence, and to maintain peace in the state". The Government invoked the powers under Section 6(1) of the West Bengal Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1954 for this.
Challenging this decision, the film makers approached the Supreme Court invoking Article 32 of the Constitution, contending that the State Government has no power to ban a movie which has been certified for public viewing by the Central Board of Film Certification. The petitioners contend that the State Government cannot cite law and order issues to stop the screening of the movie, which will result in the violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed to them. The petitioners have also challenged the validity of Section 6(1) of the West Bengal Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1954 on the ground that it is conferring arbitrary and unguided powers to the State Government.
With respect to Tamil Nadu, the petitioners allege that the exhibitors in the State withdrew the film after the informal messaging by the State authorities.
The movie has courted controversy over allegations that it is tarnishing the entire Muslim community and the Kerala state while portraying the story of women who were recruited to ISIS through deceit.
On May 5, a division bench of the Kerala High Court comprising Justice N. Nagaresh and Justice Sophy Thomas had refused to stay the exhibition of the film. The Court observed that the film only said that it was 'inspired by true events' and that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had certified the film for public viewing. The bench also watched the trailer of the film and opined that there was nothing offensive to any particular community in it. The bench also noted that none of the petitioners had watched the film and that the producers had added a disclaimer that the film was a fictionalised version of events. However, the High Court also recorded the submission of the producer that the teaser of the movie, which claimed that over 32,000 women from Kerala were recruited to ISIS, will be removed from their social media accounts.
In a related development, the Supreme Court agreed to hear on May 15 a special leave petition filed against the Kerala High Court's refusal to stay the film's exhibition.
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