SC hints at modifying its order making anthem must in theatres

NEW DELHI: Almost eleven months after the Supreme Court made it
mandatory for cinema halls to play National Anthem+
before screening of films, the court on Monday strongly hinted at modifying its order, saying it is for the Centre to take a call on framing appropriate rules and regulations.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud turned down the Centre’s plea not to tinker with its earlier order and instead asked it to take a call on playing of the national anthem in cinema halls and at other events. It said the issue falls in the executive domain and the government should not ask the court to pronounce on functions that are in the Centre’s jurisdiction.

“Why do we have to wear patriotism on our sleeves? People go to cinema for undiluted entertainment and to ease out. Tomorrow someone may say people should not come in shorts and t-shirts in cinema halls as the national anthem is played there. Where then do we draw the line. Where (will) this moral policing would stop?” Justice Chandrachud said.

“We can say ‘may’ instead of ‘shall’ in our order which would allow the government to bring the law,” the bench said. It asked the Centre to take a decision without being influenced by its interim order.

The view of the apex court was rather contrary to what was the case on November 30 last year when it directed that all cinema halls must play the national anthem before screening of films, saying “it would instil the feeling within one, a sense (of) committed patriotism and nationalism”. The interim order, incidentally, was passed by a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra before he became the CJI and led to numerous petitions to bring schools and public offices, including courts, within the ambit of the order.

Though attorney general K K Venugopal strongly supported the SC’s order of last year, saying playing of the national anthem in cinema halls will foster a feeling of national unity and patriotism, the bench felt the court should refrain from passing such orders. Justice Chandrachud was particularly critical of the earlier order and said moral policing in the name of patriotism should not be allowed.

“Why do you think that one who does not sing the national anthem is not patriotic? You do not have to sing the national anthem to prove your patriotism. Values are inculcated in a broad social and political culture and patriotism cannot be inculcated among people by the Supreme Court order making it mandatory for playing the national anthem in cinema halls,” he said.

The court said it was the fundamental duty of every citizen to respect the national anthem and national flag and it was desirable that the anthem be played in public events but judiciary should not step in to make it mandatory in cinema halls. It granted the Centre time till January 9 to “take a call one way or the other” on framing of rules on playing of national anthem in theatres and other public events.

“What stops you from amending the rules as there is no bar on you to amend rules to make it mandatory on certain occasions. Why should the court be burdened to decide the issue? Why is the government reluctant to take a call. Why should we be performing the job of the government? It is for the government to take a decision,” the bench said.

“Having heard learned counsel for the parties for some time, we think it appropriate that the central government should take a call in this regard and, if necessary, as advised, may bring out the requisite notification or circular or rules. When we say ‘take a call’, needless to say, the discretion rests with the central government. The discretion has to be exercised without being influenced by our interim order. We may further emphasise that the discretion may be utilised to regulate in an inclusive manner or as the central government feels fit,” the court said in its order.

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