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Supreme Court asks Centre to regulate playing of national anthem in public places

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to take a call on regulating the playing of national anthem in public places, including in cinema halls, within three months and said till then its earlier order directing cinema halls to play national anthem at the commencement of film will continue.

Justice DY Chandrachud, who was part of the three-judge bench, openly expressed displeasure over the interim order passed last year and said that one does not have to wear patriotism on sleeves all the time and there could not be any moral policing.

At this juncture, Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who headed the bench, which also included Justice AM Kanwilkar, hinted that the court itself would modify the order.

However, there was opposition from the petitioners, who said if the order was diluted the apex court would lose respect as people have now started obeying the order.

The court then told attorney general KK Venugopal that the Centre should take a call on amending the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act (Flag Code), which governs the playing the national anthem in public places and on certain occasions. The attorney general opposed the recall petition and said that there has to be uniformity.

“By reason of the vast diversity in the country, based on religion, caste, race and different regions it becomes necessary to have a unifying force which could be brought about by playing national anthem in theatres. When people came out from theatres, they would have a feeling of belonging to the nation,” he said.

In a brief order, the bench said,  “We think that it would be appropriate if the Central government took a call in this matter by issuing necessary notifications, rules or circulars.”

“Needless to say that the discretion to regulate would also include not to regulate also, if the Centre so wishes,” the court said.

The Centre should pass an order without being influenced by the earlier interim order that would remain in force till the Centre takes a final decision, the court said.

The bench directed the matter to be listed for further hearing on January 9, 2018. The bench was hearing an application from a Kerala-based film society seeking to recall the November 30, 2016, order on the ground that it amounted to judicial legislation.

Senior advocate CU Singh said that the order had led to vigilante groups anointing themselves as the guardians of morality. They were using violence against those not standing up during the playing of the national anthem in cinema halls. By issuing the anthem order, the court had legislated, a function of Parliament, Singh said.

The November 30, 2016, order made it mandatory that the national anthem should be played at the commencement of film in all cinemas and moviegoers will have to stand during the playing of the national anthem.

On December 9, 2016, the court exempted disabled persons from this order. During the resumed hearing on Monday, Justice Chandrachud virtually endorsed the plea for modification of the order saying that one does not have to wear patriotism on sleeves all the time and moral policing needs to be stopped.

“These are matters of entertainment. Not standing during the national anthem in movie halls was not a sign of being anti-national. If people go to cinema halls wearing skirt, would they be branded as showing disrespect to national anthem? Where do we draw a line? People are afraid of being called anti-national if they oppose mandatory order. People go to cinema halls for undiluted entertainment and they definitely need entertainment, not moral policing. Why people should assume that everyone who don’t sing or stand for the national anthem is not patriotic. They are not less patriotic,” Justice Chandrachud added.

Recalling his school days in Mumbai, Justice Chandrachud said, “I studied in a missionary school and I used to sing both the national anthem and the Lord’s Prayer.”

He wondered as to why the government put the blame and burden on the court for passing such an interim order. Why don’t you (Centre) bring regulations if you want people to mandatorily stand up during the national anthem?

Senior counsel Rakesh Diwedi, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that disrespect to the national anthem is not an offence. He pointed out that it is an offence if the national flag is defaced, burnt or disfigured. He wanted both the laws should be in consonance to each other and disrespect should be made a punishable offence.


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