The Supreme Court has issued notice to 14 States seeking their response as to why they levied higher entertainment tax on films in languages other than the official State language.

A Bench of Justices S.H. Kapadia and Aftab Alam issued notice on a writ petition filed by Hyderabad-based Aashirvad Films challenging the notification issued by the Andhra Pradesh government levying higher taxes on non-Telugu films produced and released in Andhra Pradesh.

Though the petition pertained to Andhra Pradesh, the court permitted the petitioner to implead 13 other States after senior counsel Harish Salve and Counsel K.V. Dhananjay pointed out that 14 States including Andhra Pradesh were indulging in such discrimination in levy of taxes.

Notices were also issued to the Centre and to Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Assam, Sikkim, Manipur and Orissa.

According to Rajan Sharma, proprietor of Hindi film distributor Aashirvad Films, the Supreme Court had in 2007 ruled that such discriminatory taxes on non-Telugu films were illegal and unconstitutional. But the Andhra government circumvented that order by introducing different slabs for films “produced inside the State” and those outside.

In April 2008, the State issued a notification which levied a 20 per cent tax on films produced outside the State and 7 per cent on those produced within. The earlier rate was 24 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively. The present writ petition is directed against this notification.

The petitioner said the move to replace the words “Telugu films” with “films produced in Andhra Pradesh” was meant to circumvent the 2007 Supreme Court order, as no Telugu film had ever been produced outside Andhra.

In his petition, Mr. Sharma said the higher entertainment tax was meant to inhibit the screening of Hindi films in non-Hindi-speaking States. Discrimination on the basis of language was socially divisive, he alleged. Neighbouring Karnataka, Mr. Sharma said “levies zero entertainment tax on Kannada movies but charges 40 per cent on non-Kannada movies.”

He said the Andhra notification was a “wanton violation of Articles 14, 19 (1) (a), and 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution as it stifled cinematic expression.” It also violated Article 23, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of region, he said. The petitioner sought a direction to quash the impugned notification.

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