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The Kerala High Court has allowed the exhibition of “Reason/Vivek”, a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, in the ongoing 12th International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala.
The order was passed by a single Judge Bench of Justice Shaji P Chaly in a writ petition preferred by the organizer of the Film Festival, Kerala State Chalachitra Academy and Anand Patwardhan. The petitioners had moved the High Court after the Central Government turned down the request for exemption from certification under Section 9 of the Cinematograph Act.
The request for exemption from certification for the documentary was rejected by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India on the ground that “it felt that the theme of the documentary is sensitive in nature and may have law and order ramifications”
The petitioners had argued that the denial of exemption from certification under Section 9 of the Cinematograph Act is arbitrary, illegal, vitiated by political and extraneous considerations besides being violative of Article 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and the principles of natural justice.
It was further contended that the denial of exemption is in contravention to Central Government’s 2006 Office Memorandum which provides guidelines for considering requests for exemptions as well the Cinematograph Act.
In the petition filed through advocate Jose Jones Joseph, the petitioners submitted that the Ministry has the power to reject a request for exemption under Section 9 of the Cinematograph Act if, in its opinion, the screening would impinge upon the security or integrity of the country or affect public order or affect relation with other countries.
However, such rejection could be done only in exceptional cases, after recording the reasons for the same in writing, it was added.
Arguing that the rejection is absolutely wrong, baseless and vague, the petitioner had sought quashing of the order on the ground of non-application of mind on part of the authorities.
“Ex P13 (The letter of rejection) does not say that the case in question is an exceptional case. Ex P13 does not say that the entire content of the documentary in question or any specific part thereof is objectionable. Ex P13 does not say as to how the scenes or audio part is the documentary in question or the documentary as a whole offend Ex P3 (the 2006 Office Memorandum). The finding..that the theme of the documentary is sensitive in nature and may have law and order ramifications is wrong, baseless and vague. A reading (of the letter) would show that it does not even say that the authorities concerned is of the opinion that the screening would affect law and order.”
The petitioners had also alleged the Central Government deliberately delayed its decision on the exemption request to “ensure that the documentary in question is not exhibited in the Film Festival and to stifle the legal remedy available against the denial of exemption.”
The Film Festival organizers had applied for exemption from Section for 161 films including “Reason/Vivek” on May 27, 2019.
By its order dated June 17, 2019, the Desk Officer, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting granted an exemption to 160 films except “Reason/Vivek” by Anand Patwardhan. The Film Festival organizers thereafter appealed before the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The request for exemption was once again turned down on June 24.
The documentary begins with looking into the murders of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare, and the role of the Sanatan Sanstha in spreading right-wing extremist violence. It also showcases Dalit protests and the rise of Dalit leaders in recent years and ends in Dadri, Mohammad Akhlaq’s village.