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Case Summary and Outcome

The case concerned a challenge to the powers of censorship under the

Cinematograph Act, 1952 under which the Censor Board had required the petitioner
to delete certain shots from his film in order to be eligible for unrestricted public
exhibition. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition and upheld the Act. In doing
so, it considered the special nature of cinema as a medium in its power to evoke
reactions among the public and considered the restrictions under the Act to be

The petitioner was a journalist, playwright, writer and film producer. He produced a
short film called A Tale of Four Cities, which depicted the contemporary realities of
life in Bombay (present-day Mumbai), Calcutta (present-day Kolkata), Delhi and
Madras (present-day Chennai). The film contrasted the luxurious lives of the rich
with the squalor of poverty. He sought a U certificate from the Censor Board for
unrestricted public viewing.

For granting a U certificate, the Censor Boards Examining Committee recommended

a certificate that restricted public viewing to an audience of adults. This decision was
confirmed by the Revising Committee. On appeal, the Central Government
recommended a U certificate if a scene set in the red-light district was removed. The
scene suggestively portrayed immoral trafficking, prostitution,and economic
exploitation by pimps. The scene was considered unsuitable for children.

The petitioner filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court, arguing that his right to
freedom of expression was violated because, firstly, prior-censorship itself cannot be
tolerated in freedom of speech and expression, and secondly, if any censorship is
allowed, it must be on non-arbitrary grounds. The petitioner also asked for directions
for a fixed time-limit for a decision of the Censor Board as well as an alternative
appellate mechanism to approaching the Central Government; these were granted by
the government and so were not discussed by the Supreme Court.

Decision Overview
Chief Justice Hidayatullah delivered the Courts opinion, on behalf of justices Shelat,
Mitter, Vidyialingam and Ray.

The Court did not accept the distinction between prior censorship and censorship in
general and considered both to be governed by the standards of reasonable
restrictions within Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution
recognized that freedom of speech and expression was not an unrestricted right and
therefore, reasonable restrictions could be imposed. The absence of the word
reasonable in the Cinematograph Act was considered inconclusive in this regard.
Prior censorship was permitted under the Constitution for public order or
tranquility. The Court referred to the guardianship role of the Courts as the legal
protector of citizens in preserving public interest.

With respect to the issue of insufficient guidelines in the Act and the arbitrary
exercise of powers under the Act, the Court found that the guidelines given under the
Act read with Article 19(2) of the Constitution were sufficiently clear. However, it
recommended that the guidelines draw a distinction between artistic expression and
non-artistic expression in assessing obscenity. This alone was however considered
insufficient to strike down the provisions of the Act.

Contracts Expression
Within the facts of the case, it is reasonable to hold that deletion of scenes may be
required in order to get a certificate for unrestricted public viewing as a U certificate
is not a matter of right.
However, by generally upholding censorship powers under the Cinematograph Act,
the Court contracted the right to freedom of expression. This power under the Act is
not confined to cases of age-appropriate certification, rather, it applies to demands
for all categories of certification. The Cinematograph (Amendment) Act, 1981 (w.e.f.
1983) amended the Act and the Censor Board was renamed the Central Board of Film
Certification and the Cinematograph Rules, 1983 were introduced. However, despite
the change in nomenclature, the Board continues to exercise censorship powers,
which is justified because of the Supreme Courts acceptance of a wider, more
arbitrary censorship provision as constitutional.