‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’: SC fines Bengal for virtual ban (Lead)

New Delhi, April 11  The Supreme Court on Thursday imposed a fine of Rs 20 lakh on the West Bengal government for restricting the screening of “Bhobishyoter Bhoot”, a film based on political satire.

The court termed the government’s restriction on the film earlier this year, a “threat to artistic freedom and a mark of intolerance”.

A bench comprising of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud communicating its worry on the incident, said it was a grim of example of government methodology to silence discontent, and directed the state government to compensate the theatre owners, who were largely affected by its adverse decision.

The government had imposed a shadow ban on the screening of the film in theatres. The police had issued orders to theatre owners asking them to refrain from screening the film.

The judgement came on a writ petition filed by Indibily Creative Pvt Ltd, challenging the validity of police officers’ letters to stop the screening of the film.

The court during the hearing observed that such police action on theatre owners was a major threat to democracy.

The court had categorically questioned the authority of the police to issue directions to stop the film screening. The court questioned how was it possible that a film that was critical of the political system could hurt the public sentiment.

Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the film producer contended that such interference of the police in the state would set a wrong trend. He told the court that the police stopped the screening without invoking any legal provisions.

The court said: “The state of West Bengal is duty-bound, once the film has been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to take necessary measures to protect the fundamental right to free speech and expression of the producer and the director.”

Reserving its judgement, the court said it would set guidelines on the issue.

The court was curious as to how the state’s law and order was under threat; and why did the police seek a private screening of the film before it was released for the public.

The state government counsel informed the court that the letter sent by the Joint Commissioner of Police to the producer on February 11 was withdrawn. It had said that the “film may create political law and order issues”.

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