In a major development, the Central Board of Film Certification is likely to lose its ‘censoring’ powers and will be left only with the authority to ‘certify’. Reports indicate that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is working on major changes in the Cinematography Act that are set to be introduced in the Winter Session of Parliament. In the wake of the recent furore against CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani decision to introduce many cuts to the controversial movie ‘Udta Punjab’, the government has expressed its desire to avoid any further controversies. The Bombay High Court had pulled up the CBFC in June for demanding 89 cuts in the movie to grant a certificate for its release. The court soon ordered the Censor Board to certify ‘Udta Punjab’ within 48 hours with just one cut. It also raised questions about the Board’s powers to censor movies as the word censor did not figure in the Cinematograph Act and said if cuts had to be made, those should be in consonance with the Constitution and directions of the Supreme Court. “Censor in common parlance means to certify a movie. Therefore, if by law the board is empowered to make changes, cuts or deletions, this power of the CBFC must be consistently in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Supreme Court directions,” Justice Dharmadhikari said. However, in a stirring column, noted Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Bhatia had argued how the Cinematograph Act, its guidelines, and the censor board are fundamentally at odds with our constitutional vision. “Our Constitution, the culmination of a decades-long struggle for political independence and civic freedom, is premised upon the belief — and the faith — that citizens are autonomous individuals, who make their own choices and take responsibility for them — whether it is in the political arena while exercising their right to elect their representatives, or in the cultural arena, in deciding which gods to worship, whom to associate with, and what to see, speak, or here,” Bhatia wrote. “The Cinematograph Act, its guidelines, and the censor board, by making the government the arbiter of what films are fit or unfit for citizens to see, on the assumption that the ‘wrong’ kinds of films might lead them to form the wrong kinds of views or take the wrong kinds of actions, are fundamentally at odds with our constitutional vision.” Thus, the Centre’s decision to introduce major amendments to the Cinematograph Act is most welcome.
The CBFC’s actions had triggered a political storm in Punjab. The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab was accused of using their influence to censor the film, which depicted the horrors of the drug trade in the state. Punjab’s ruling alliance denied the charge. The previous UPA government had appointed the Justice Mukul Mudgal committee in 2013 to suggest ways in which it could revamp the CBFC. Among other things, the committee had suggested that the CBFC’s role should be limited to certification rather than censorship.