Legal Correspondent

Government action "irresponsible"

`Constitution does not allow private censor intrusion'Film to be screened later this month

Hyderabad: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Wednesday quashed the State Government's order prohibiting the screening of The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown's best-selling novel. It also imposed costs on the Government for resorting to such "irresponsible" action.

Justice Goda Raghu Ram allowed three writ petitions two by film distributors Sony India and Lakshmi Ganesh Films, and another by a citizen, M.M. Reddy challenging the ban imposed by the Home Department a day prior to the scheduled State-wide screening on June 2.

Protests by Christians

Citing the protests lodged by Christians and Muslims, the Government banned the film. They held that the film's story attacked the basic tenets of the Holy Gospel. The Government contended that the film might hurt their religious sentiments and lead to law and order problems.

Rejecting these arguments, Mr. Justice Raghu Ram, in his 48-page judgment, said, "The Constitution does not confer or tolerate such individualised hyper-sensitive private censor intrusion into and regulation of guaranteed freedom of others."

Tracing the concept of freedom of speech and expression and its necessity for the blossoming of the human mind, he noted that the Censor Board had cleared the film with appropriate conditions. A film was not like a billboard or hoarding that involuntarily affected innocent passersby. Those who purchased tickets to see the film made a conscious decision, and the state had no role to stop the screening.

Authorities criticised

Mr. Justice Raghu Ram said the authorities who passed the ban order had not even seen the film. The officer "mechanically certified" the veto of a few objectors rather than arriving at a decision based on informed satisfaction. This was "arbitrary, casual and [a] wholly irrational exercise of a very sensitive and responsible executive power, namely the regulation of a cherished, valued and guaranteed fundamental freedom of expression."

The judge, who saw the film at a special screening, recalled various works on different interpretations of Jesus Christ.

The court said, "Freedom of speech and expression contributes to the richness and equilibrium of human existence." Terming the Government's action wholly negligent and an irresponsible exercise of executive power, the judge directed the Government to pay Rs. 10,000 each to the distributors and Rs. 2,500 to Mr. Reddy.

Meanwhile, the distributors are planning to screen the film later this month.

More In: Today's Paper