In a significant turnaround, the Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court to modify its earlier order making it mandatory for cinema halls to play the National Anthem before screening of a film, compelling patrons to stand up while the anthem plays. And on Tuesday, the apex court ruled that playing the National Anthem in cinema halls is not mandatory.
The government on Monday said the Supreme Court may "consider the restoration of status quo ante until then, that is, restoration of the position as it stood before the order passed by this court on 30 November, 2016" as it mandates the playing of the National Anthem in all cinemas before the feature film starts.
The Centre's stand when the 2016 order came out was clearly contrary to its present one.
On 30 November 2016, a Supreme court bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Amitava Roy ordered that the National Anthem must be played in public theaters across the country before a movie. It also ordered that the National Flag be displayed on screen when the anthem is played.
The Centre, represented by then attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi, said it completely agreed with need for specific guidelines to show respect and honour for the national anthem and the flag.
A report in The Hindu captures the Centre's stand on the issue in 2016: "When the hearing began, Justice Misra, along with Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, recalled a time, years ago, when the anthem was played in schools and before film shows in theatres as the flag fluttered on the screen. They then mutually agreed that respect was lacking."
Days later, an MP of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Meenakshi Lekhi, supported the order, saying respecting the anthem "causes no harm". "The National Anthem is sung at various places like schools, public functions, events etc. What's the harm in playing it at another venue? It causes no harm and it is natural to stand up when the anthem is played," she said.
Lekhi said the law is clear about the National Anthem, as it is already mentioned in the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act. "The court had just read the law," she said, adding that people living in the country must abide by the law of the land.
The BJP also welcomed the order, saying it will strengthen the spirit of nationalism and the idea of Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat.
Party spokesperson Nalin Kohli said the order is a reminder to people that they should have affection and duty towards national institutions and symbols. "Its a welcome order. Of late, there have been certain controversies. People are not standing up in cinema halls when National Anthem is being played."
Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, who was a Union minister at the time of the 2016 ruling, had said the decision will "inculcate a sense of patriotism among people, particularly the younger generation".
A year later, the November 2016 order had found sharp criticism from within the apex court itself.
On 23 October, 2017, the Supreme Court said that people do not need to stand up in cinema halls to prove their patriotism and "cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves", asking the Centre to consider amending the rules.
Observing that the society did not need "moral policing", the bench said that next time, "the government will want people to stop wearing T-shirts and shorts to cinemas saying this would disrespect the National Anthem."
Representing the Centre, Attorney-General KK Venugopal had told the court that India was a diverse country and the National Anthem needed to be played in the cinema halls to bring in uniformity.
Venugopal said it should be left open to the government to take a call on its own discretion on whether the anthem should be played in theatres.
Updated Date: Jan 10, 2018 07:49 AM