Indibility Creative Pvt Ltd v. Government of West Bengal

Name of the caseIndibily Creative Pvt. Ltd. v. Govt. Of West Bengal
Citation2019 SCC OnLine SC 564
Year of the case2019
AppellantIndibility Creative Pvt Ltd & Ors
RespondentGovernment of West Bengal & Ors
BenchJustice D.Y Chandrachud Justice Hemant Gupta
Acts involvedConstitution of India, 1950, Cinematographic Act, 1952
Important sectionsArticle 19(1)(a),19(1)(g), 19(2) and Article 21 of Constitution of India, 1950. Section 13, Cinematographic Act, 1952

The Preamble of the Constitution aims in providing ‘liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship’ and Article 19 for Freedom of Speech & Expressions as the Fundamental Right. This pair of provisions has successfully given the citizens of India to express their ideas, thought and beliefs and the Judiciary considering the responsibility on their shoulders to establish the significance of this freedom has time and again held that such freedom is necessary or the development of the society as well as the participation of the citizens in the Government. In the case if Indibility Creative Pvt Ltd & Ors v. Government of West Bengal & Ors, again the freedom of speech and expressions and its restrictions under Article 19(2) has been discussed. Furthermore, till what extent an authority can exercise its power in restricting this freedom has also been addressed.

Introduction

This case revolves around a Bengali film, Bhobishyoter Bhoot (future ghosts) is a social and political satire, who wants to make themselves considerable. The film through its comical approach tries to discover the values which in contemporary societies seem to be lost. Before the release of the film, it was restrained by various authorities of the State of West Bengal on the ground that it can hurt public sentiments which may lead to public disorder. The case analyses this restrain concerning the fundamental rights in Part III of the Indian Constitution, i.e. article 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g), and article 21. It was further analyzed that what is the actual authority and responsibility of the state authorities and to what extent they can exercise such authority.

Background

The first petitioner is the company established in 2017, the second and third petitioners are the directors as well as the co-producers of the movie. The State of West Bengal, its Department of Home and the Kolkata Police obstructed the public exhibition of Bengali movie Bhobishyoter Bhoot because it may hurt public sentiments leading to ‘political law and order issues’. The suit was filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution for the infringement of fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(a), Freedom of Speech & Expression, 19(1)(g) to practice any profession, or business and Article 21 of the citizens i.e. Right to life and personal liberty. Through this restriction, the state authorities exercised beyond the authorized powers.  

Facts of the Case

Before the release, the company received a letter from the State Intelligence Unit to arrange a prior screening of the movie for senior officials of Kolkata Police. To this letter, the second petitioner replied that the ‘inputs’ and the movie has been acknowledged by CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification). The petitioner moved on with the release on February 15, 2020, but it was seen on the next day that the film was removed from the majority of the theatres and tickets being refunded. When the director of the movie along with some cast and crew went to one of the theatres to ask why such action was taken, the exhibitor informed that certain ‘higher authorities’ have instructed them to do so, and further mentioned that if such action was not executed the exhibitor have to face the risk of damages in the cinema halls. Further, when the petitioners communicated to various exhibitors from small to large and police commissioner of Kolkata for seeking an explanation for removing their movie from their theatres.

But no response was given. To this writ petition under Article 32 of the constitution was filed accusing the State of West Bengal, its Department of Home and the Kolkata Police for unreasonably restricting the movie Bhobishyoter Bhoot for public exhibition.

The appellant contended that film has been certified by the concerned expert authority CBFC, which has gained its power from the Cinematograph Act. The petitioners also challenged the authority based on which State of West Bengal, its Department of Home and the Kolkata Police obstructed the movie for the public exhibition even after censorship by the CBFC which infringed the Freedom of Speech & expressions of the petitioners.

The court on March 15 gave interim directions to Chief Secretary and the Principal Secretary of the Department of Home in the Government of West Bengal that there no such obstructions for the screening of the movie. The directions also included the protection of the viewers, exhibitors, and the property of cinemas. In further hearings, the respondents contended that there was no such ban imposed on the movie by the Government of West Bengal and claimed that the movie was presently running in ten theatres to which petitioners replied that these theatres are located outside Bengal.  

Issues

  • Whether the State machineries had the authority to ban the film from public exhibition.
  • Whether the ban of the film by the state authorities of West Bengal was correct with respect to Article 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g) and Article 21.

Relevant Provisions

Article 19(1)(a): All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression

Article 19(1)(g): All citizens shall have the right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Article 19(2): Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Section 13, Cinematographic Act,1952: Power of Central Government or local authority to suspend exhibition of films in certain cases.

Relevant Cases

The Supreme Court of India, from time to time has addressed the issues arising between article 19(1)(a) & article19(2). Following are the cases which addressed the same:

  • Life Insurance Corporation of India & Ors v. Professor Manu Bhai D. Shah[i]

This case addressed the issue concerning the censorship of the content done by the state controlled authorities. The two judge bench held that the restrictions put on any medium, printing and/or the electronic media or any expression has to comply with reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19(2) to be rejected. The rejection of any content has to be done under valid grounds only.

  • Dr. D.C. Saxena v. Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India[ii]

The Supreme Court in this case held that for any restrictions on the freedom of speech and expressions has to be executed, it has to fully satisfy the restrictions under Article 19(2). The authority cannot in a ‘quicksand of convenience or expediency’ to restrict the freedom of speech and expression.

While addressing the truffle between these two article, the Supreme Court has meticulously maintained the power of the Central Government as superior in matters of National interest.

  • K.M. Shankarappa v. Union of India[iii]

In this case, section 6 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 was challenged on the ground that the Central Government has the power to review the decision decided by the competent authority mentioned under the Act. The court held that it is the duty of the government to handle any public disorder or law and order situation. Therefore, the government has to have such power to and to take appropriate actions who chooses to breach the law.

Judgement

The approach of the judgement was clear and straight. The judgment emphasising on the importance of freedom of speech and expressions held that such views and expressions are significant for the development of a democratic and tolerant society. The citizens of India under article 19(1)(a) have the freedom to criticise anything or anyone by any manner of their choice until and unless it does not violate article 19(2) and any other provisions of law. Therefore, the state authorities by obstructing the film for public exhibition not on any valid grounds infringed the rights under Article 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(g).

The citizens of the country under article 21 of the constitution has the right to receive news and information and other social situations in the society. This again promotes democracy in the country as expressing various ideas and thoughts leads the citizens to exercise right of choice, right to decide and right to form perceptions which was hindered by the actions if the state authorities of Bengal.

Furthermore, the state authorities by their actions of demanding a priority screening, forcefully withdrawing the film by blackmailing the exhibitors of the theatres to damage the property or any other harm were found liable to abuse the public power authorised to them by a statutory law which is clearly unconstitutional. The court issued Mandamus restraining the State Government for any further actions regarding this movie and facilitating and protection the lawful screening of the film. A compensation of Rs 20 lakhs with 1 Lakh as the cost proceedings was to be paid by the respondents.

Concept Highlighted

The first aspect deals with the significance of article 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(g) in a democratic, developing society. The emphasis was laid upon the freedom of speech and expression, which includes criticism, reality, and speeches which some people do not agree or do not want to listen to. Prohibition of freedom of expression. Further, if any such restrictions are imposed, it has to comply with Article 19(2) and if such expressions do not satisfy the grounds, this freedom cannot be suppressed on mere ‘threats’ of violence or demonstration. 

It will be the duty of the state to prevent and protect the freedom of expression which is constitutionally protected.

This broad approach of the Constitution can be seen in the Bombay High Court case[iv], when they quashed the decision of CBFC who denied the certification because the content contains gruesome killings and violence, stating that such controversial issues are necessary to broadcast to the public. The court further held that the constitution protects the right of the artist to ‘portray social reality in any form.’ Therefore, through this case, it was again highlighted that article 19(1) cannot be loosely handled by any authority, and freedom of speech and expression cannot be arbitrarily suppressed.

The next aspect deals with the rule of law and the extent of exercising delegated legislation. The basic principle of Rule of Law is that every authority of the government and its actions should be justified according to the authorized law. Therefore, any administrative actions or an authority upon which powers have been delegated, they have to come under the law and should not exceed the powers determined by law. Therefore, the Rule of Law determines a standard and a structure beyond which no authority can exercise their power.

In this case, the state authorities, Joint Commissioner of Police, Principal Secretary, Department of Home, and Director General of Police, West Bengal without any valid ground took actions to withdraw the movie from the theatres beyond the authorized power, breaching the doctrine of Rule of Law.

Therefore, this case highlighted that no authority can exercise its power beyond the law and cannot infringe the freedom of speech & expressions of the on arbitrary grounds.


[i] (1993) AIR 171

[ii] (1996) 5 SCC 216

[iii] ILR 1990 KAR 4082

[iv] F.A. Picture International vs. Central Board of Film, AIR 2005 Bom 145

References

  • Indian Kanoon

(https://indiankanoon.org/doc/55820570/)

  • Lawyer Services

(https://www.lawyerservices.in)

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