Citation-2019 SCC OnLine SC 564
Court- Supreme Court of India
Petitioners–Indibility Creative Pvt Ltd & Ors
Respondents-Government of West Bengal & Ors
The Petitioners were producers of a Bengali film, Bhobishyoter Bhoot . The film was a satire on the political conditions in contemporary India , about ghosts who aim to find relevance through rescuing the marginalized and the obsolete people . The film was scheduled to release in Kolkata and some districts of West Bengal on 15th February. It received the certificate for public exhibition on 19 November 2018. However, a few days preceding to the release, the Petitioner No. 2 (producer) received a phone call from the Kolkata police on 11 February 2019 and thereafter, a letter, asking for an advance screening of the film for senior officials. The communication declared that the police had received some intelligence reports that the film had the potential to could cause “political law and order issues.”The Petitioner No. 2 responded by letter dated 12 February 2019 that the film was already duly certified and it was a settled law that after the approval of the Central Board of Film Certification, it was no more open for any other authority to hinder the screening of the film. The film was released on 15 February 2019. On 16 February 2019, the film was abruptly removed from theatres by a large number of exhibitors and the tickets were also 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. By the time the petitioners filed a writ only two exhibitors displayed their film and one exhibitor eventually informed the producers that that they were “directed by the authorities to discontinue screening” of the film “keeping in mind the interest of the guests”. The Petitioners therefore, contended that the State had sought to ban the film through indirect means and without the authority of law
The Petitioners therefore, averred that the State in banning the film through indirect means and without the authority of law had violated their fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and carrying a lawful trade of their choice under article 19 (1)(a) , 19 (1)(g) and article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The petitioners contended that the film had already received certification for public exhibition by CBFC and hence the impediment caused by the state of West Bengal through its Home Department and the Kolkata police has amounted to a violation of the rule of law. They also argued that such acts of hindrance to the public exhibition of the film amounts to a subversion of the law declared by the Court according to which a film having been cleared by the CBFC cannot be subjected to censorship by the state nor can the state raise any issue of law and order to restrain its exhibition. It was also contended that the attempt by the functionaries of the state to interfere with the exhibition of the film is destructive of the freedom of speech and expression and that, CBFC is an expert body entrusted with the statutory power under the Cinematograph Act to determine whether a film should be certified for public viewing and is the sole repository of that power. Further they contended that the extra constitutional method adopted by the state and its agencies blatantly violates the fundamental rights of the petitioners under article 19 (1)(a) , 19 (1)(g) and article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The respondents contended that they expected a threat to the law and order in the society because of such a political satire. The respondents also explained the Court that in pursuance of the earlier directions, the Additional Director General and Inspector General of Police (Law and Order), West Bengal, addressed letters dated 19 March 2019 to (i) District Superintendents of Police; (ii) Commissioners of Police (including of Kolkata); (iii) Range Deputy Inspectors General of Police; (iv) Zonal Inspectors General of Police; and (v) the Additional Director General of Police, South Bengal, forwarding a copy of the order of this Court for information and necessary compliance. A similar communication dated 18 March 2019 was addressed by the Principal Secretary, Department of Home, Government of West Bengal to the Commissioner of Police, Kolkata for compliance with the order of this Court. A statement was also made before this Court on behalf of the respondents that neither has the film been banned by the Government of West Bengal nor has recourse been taken to the powers contained in Section 6 of the West Bengal Cinemas (Regulation) Act 1954 or Section 13 of the Cinematograph Act 1952. They also informed the court that the film was being displayed by ten exhibitors at that point of time.
However, it was later contended by the petitioners all the theatres screening their movie were outside Kolkata.
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 .It also explained how freedom of speech and expression is not conditioned upon the acceptance of people unable to take any criticism. The court also explained that the Constitution is meant to protect the creative expression of those engaged in human endeavour in the areas of fine art and culture. Coupled with this is also the right of the entire society and the community to know, to receive information and be informed. 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.
The court therefore declared that the State interfered with the freedom of speech and expression, both in commission and omission, and held that there was indeed a violation of the rights of the Petitioners under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The Court also directed the Respondents to pay compensation quantified at Rs. 20 lakhs by the Court for violation of fundamental rights , in addition to Rs. 1 lakh as legal costs.