The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), that was tasked with the responsibility of hearing appeals of filmmakers in matters related to certification of their films has been abolished by way of an ordinance that came into effect on 4th April.
The role of FCAT has now been delegated to the “Concerned High Court” as per the amendments in the Cinematograph Act, 1952 in pursuance of Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021.
The FCAT was established in 1983 for the purpose of providing a grievance redressal mechanism to filmmakers aggrieved by the decisions of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
The CBFC, also, colloquially known as the “censor board” has constantly been in the news over the last 3-4 years for all the wrong reasons. There are multiple examples that uncover the arbitrary decision making of the CBFC. Disputes between filmmakers & CBFC with regard to movies such Lipstick Under My Burkha, Udta Punjab, Kalakaandi etc. which have received huge critical acclaim for the portrayal of reality and truth through the medium of cinema exposes the regressive censorship CBFC, time and again seeks to impose.
In case of such disputes the filmmakers had the option of approaching FCAT, for getting a resolution to the objections and cuts imposed on their work by the CBFC. The tribunal, all through these years provided for timely redressal at minimal costs. Mostly, the members of the tribunal have been industry veterans, who used to possess the required experience for the purpose.
PROCEDURE ADOPTED FOR DISCONTINUATION OF THE FCAT
The procedure adopted for the purpose of disbanding the Tribunals also looks spurious, and relevant questions are bound to be raised because of the lack of a consultative approach.
In the absence of any impending need to abolish the FCAT, adopting an ordinance as a way to disband FCAT seems excessive and unnecessary.
The power of the President to promulgate an ordinance is provided under Art.123, the bare reading of the article makes it clear that promulgation of an ordinance requires the existence of circumstances that render it necessary for him to take immediate action.
It is essential to look at the suggestions given by two esteemed panels on the issue of film certification in India. Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee & Shyam Benegal Committee, both esteemed committees, tried to cut down the censorship powers of the CBFC, and went on record to state that the CBFC’s mandate is certification, not censorship.
They have further suggested that the ambit and jurisdiction of the FCAT should be significantly widened and more reliance could be placed on the Tribunal for resolution of film certification related issues. Therefore, in absence of any exigency the FCAT has been disbanded by way of an ordinance.
OVERBURDENED COURTS & POSSIBLE DELAYS
As a result of the abolition of the Tribunal, the power of adjudication is now delegated to the concerned High Court. It is pertinent to note that more than 4.5 million cases are pending before various High Courts across the Country. Further, more than 40% of cases in the High Courts are pending for a period of more than 2 years. If we look at per judge caseload the situation of dispute resolution by way of litigation in India looks grim. In between all this, the recent ordinance will further increase the caseload on an already overburdened judiciary.
Expecting the High Courts to match the speed and efficiency of FCAT is not feasible.
The Tribunal used to resolve around 20 cases with regard to certification of films on a monthly basis, the process of adjudication included watching the disputed films at length to arrive at an informed decision. Therefore, the high pendency before the High Courts and process of adjudication required makes it clear that relief from High Courts will lead to delay and will also involve excessive litigation costs.
The potential delay in getting relief from High Courts will always deter the filmmakers from going to the courts because the monetary loss of producers will run into crores if the release of a particular film is delayed.
The consequences of any dispute or controversy with the CBFC in absence of the FCAT are so grave that the filmmakers will think twice before exercising their creative freedom.
In recent years, the rise of Independent Cinema has altered the choices of viewers in favour of more meaningful cinema. The sustenance of this type of cinematic model is possible only in presence of a strong mechanism for protecting artistic creativity and freedom of expression. Unfortunately, the discontinuation of the Tribunal has resulted in the dismantling of this protective mechanism. A significant proportion of the consequences of this abolition will have to be borne by the audience also.
(The author is third-year student at National Law University Delhi)