Supreme Court's constant back-and-forth on National Anthem order is a grand waste of its time

Over the past few weeks, we have seen reports of a drunk man raping a woman in broad daylight, accusations of corruption against senior intelligence officers, a couple being acquitted after spending four years in jail because a trial court made a “mockery of the law” and a journalist being killed for her writings.

In the midst of it all, the Supreme Court has once again picked up a matter which clearly merits great urgency: whether people should stand for the National Anthem being played in movie theatres.

The matter first jolted into public consciousness after the Supreme Court passed an order stating that the National Anthem must be played in movie theatres across the country before a movie, minus any dramatisation. It had also ordered that the National Flag should be shown on the screen when the anthem is played.

The bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Amitava Roy had said then that this would instil a feeling of constitutional patriotism and nationalism. "It is the duty of every citizen to abide by the ideals ingrained in the Constitution and as such show respect to the National Anthem and the national flag," the bench had said.

Supreme Courts constant back-and-forth on National Anthem order is a grand waste of its time

Representational image. Getty Images

The matter evoked great debate with some saying it amounted to patriot-isation of culture while others said it caused no harm. The practical problems with the order were pointed out and it was said to be a promotion of a spirit that has nothing to do with patriotism of any sort.

Senior Advocate KK Venugopal was then of the view that the order could lead to law-and-order problem as it would be difficult for theatre owners to make people stand especially children, elderly viewers or those who are physically challenged. Venugopal had also said that it would have been more appropriate if the court had asked the government to amend Cinematograph Rules to provide for the playing of the national anthem and the compulsion to stand while it is being played.

The new order

Time, however, changes. Justice Dipak Misra is now Chief Justice Dipak Misra. Senior Advocate KK Venugopal is now Attorney-General KK Venugopal. And the matter landed up before the highest court again.

On Monday, the bench comprising the Chief Justice along with Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud heard an application for recall of its original order. The court has the power to recall its orders in only in exceptional cases.

Probably in a much more amiable mood, this time the court looked at the other side of the debate as well. CJI Misra actually suggested that the interim order could be changed from "shall play" to "may play" the anthem, a suggestion A-G Venugopal agreed with.

The final order did not record all of this and left it to the central government to take a call in this regard. It further added that the government doesn't even need to be influenced by the earlier order. The final effect of this, according to Gautam Bhatia — one of the lawyers in the case — is that playing of the National Anthem remains mandatory till the government takes a call on the issue.

The Supreme Court will revisit the issue on 9 January, 2018.

A grand waste of time

While there is no official record of how long the court and the lawyers spent on this particular issue, at least four senior advocates, three top law officers of the country, eleven advocates-on-record and thirty-four advocates were involved in the matter. It was heard by a two-judge bench the last time and by a three-judge bench this time.

All of this time was spent on an issue where the court did not come to any final conclusion. The matter will now go to the Centre where it will again go through the rigours of bureaucracy before finally landing at a conclusion. And considering the nature of the debate, if nothing we can expect a copious amount of drama in the coming days.

Justice Chandrachud expressed his opinion on the matter best when he asked "why must patriotism be worn on our sleeves" and asked if there should be "court-mandated patriotism". He then proceeded to hit the nail on the head and said that values are inculcated and not mandated.

The top court's intervention in such matters is debatable. If it picks up such a matter and then fails to properly dispose it of, that it is a disservice to the millions who put their trust in the judiciary to protect their rights.

The National Anthem is an important part of our national identity. And there are already rules in place to prevent any insult to it. The Supreme Court needn't waste its time in ensuring that someone's heightened sense of patriotism is not offended by the behaviour of others who are just at the cinema for — as Justice Chandrachud puts it — undiluted entertainment. However, if the court still feels that its intervention is required then it shouldn't tip-toe around the issue with interim orders and deal with it instead of diverting the matter to the government.

The time of the court is too valuable to be wasted on such matters for even a second more than necessary. Surely, the lives of the citizens are more important than the patriotism they are mandated to show.

This article uses inputs from Gautam Bhatia's twitter feed where he reported Monday's proceedings.

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Updated Date: Oct 24, 2017 16:45:07 IST

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