The Supreme Court today overturned its 2016 order of making it mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anther before screening of films. In its today’s order, the apex court replace the ‘shall’ word from its previous order with ‘may’, making it optional for theatres to play the national anthem.
The top court modified its November 30, 2016 order after the Centre submitted that it had set up a12-member inter-ministerial committee to frame guidelines to decide the circumstances when the national anthem should be played or sung with decorum and suggested that the earlier order could be reviewed.
In October last year, the court had observed that the people "cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves" and it cannot be assumed that if a person does not stand up for the national anthem, he or she is "less patriotic".
Observing that the society did not need "moral policing", the court had then said that next time, "the government will want people to stop wearing T-shirts and shorts to cinemas saying this would disrespect the national anthem."
The bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, said the committee should comprehensively look into all the aspects relating to the playing of national anthem and allowed the petitioners to make representations before the panel.
The bench, while disposing of the petitions pending before it, made it clear that the exemption granted earlier to disabled persons from standing in the cinema halls when the national anthem is being played, shall remain in force till the committee takes a decision.
The top court accepted the government's affidavit which said the 12-member panel has been set up to suggest changes in the 1971 Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.
Attorney General KK Venugopal told the bench that the committee will submit its report within six months. The Centre had yesterday told the apex court that an inter-ministerial committee has been set up as extensive consultations were needed for framing of guidelines describing the circumstances and occasions on which the national anthem is to be played or sung and observance of proper decorum on such occasions.
The government had said that the top court may "consider the restoration of status quo ante until then, that is restoration of the position as it stood before the order passed by this court on November 30, 2016" as it mandated the playing of the anthem in cinemas before a feature film starts.
The inter-ministerial committee headed by Additional Secretary (Border Management), Ministry of Home Affairs, with representatives from various other ministries, including the Ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Culture, Woman and Child Development and Parliamentary Affairs. It would also have representatives of the Ministries of Information and Broadcasting and Minority Affairs, Department of Legal Affairs, Department of School Education and Literacy and the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disability, the affidavit filed by Centre said.
The apex court had on October 24 last year observed that people do not need to stand up in the cinema halls to prove their patriotism and had asked the Centre to consider amending the rules for regulating playing of the national anthem in the theatres.
"People go to cinema halls for undiluted entertainment. Society needs entertainment. We cannot allow you (Centre) to shoot from our shoulders. People do not need to stand up in cinema halls to prove their patriotism," the bench had said.
"Desireability is one thing but making it mandatory is another. Citizens cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves and courts cannot inculcate patriotism among people through its order," it had said.
The court's strong remarks had came during the hearing on a PIL filed last year by Shyam Narayan Chouksey seeking a direction that the national anthem be played in all cinema halls before the start of screening of a film.
The apex court had in its November 30, 2016, order said that "love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the national anthem as well as to the national flag". It had also barred printing of the anthem or a part of it on any object and displaying it in such a manner at places which may be "disgraceful to its status and tantamount to disrespect".
Passing a slew of directions, the court had said that fundamental duties in the Constitution "do not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights that have individual thought, have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible".
It had also said proper norms and protocol should be fixed regarding its playing and singing at official functions and programmes where those holding constitutional office are present.