The Madras High Court recently observed that cinema halls must necessarily provide free, potable and pure drinking water to cinema goers if they are prohibited from carrying water bottles into the cinema halls. (G Devarajan v. The Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu and ors)
Justice SM Subramaniam acknowledged that cinema owners may prohibit cinema goers from prohibiting drinking water from outside into the cinema hall for security reasons. Undesirable elements may carry alcohol or even water mixed with acid, the judge observed. There have also been reports on "bottle bomb devices" exploding in theatres, it was further recounted.
However, in the event water from outside is barred, the cinema should necessarily provide free drinking water through water coolers installed inside the Cinema Halls, the Court directed.
"A Cinema Hall, which seeks to prohibit carrying of drinking water inside the Cinema Hall for security reasons, must necessarily provide free potable and pure drinking water through water coolers installed inside the Cinema Halls, before such a prohibition can be enforced ... Mere availability of the drinking water would not be sufficient to enforce prohibition of carrying drinking water inside the Cinema Halls. Purified drinking water with prescribed standards must be provided, so as to satisfy the requirements ... it is to be ensured that drinking water facilities are provided all the times to the cinema goers in the Hall," the order said.
Water purifiers need to be installed within water coolers so that the water available to cinema-goers is free from impurities and a sufficient number of disposable glasses need to be made available near the coolers, the Court said.
The water purifiers have to remain fully functional and regularly serviced from time to time, it was stated. If this is not done, the owner of the cinema hall would be liable to pay compensation for the deficiency in rendering services to cinema goers, it was further opined.
Drinking water has to be available before the movie starts and throughout the screening of the movie, including during the interval, the Judge added.
"If for any reason, water supply is not available on a particular day, alternative arrangements for supply of free pure and potable drinking water for the cinema goers needs to be made available by the owners of the Cinema Hall," the Court said.
The judge has also called on the concerned authorities to carry out periodic inspections to ensure that drinking water facilities, toilets etc. at movie theatres in Tamil Nadu are being properly maintained.
"The department officials are duty bound to conduct periodical and surprise inspections in all the Cinema theatres across the State of Tamil Nadu," the Court said.
The Court was dealing with a petition moved in 2016 by one G Devarajan, who had registered protest after being charged a price higher than the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) in the outside market for water and juice at a food stall in S2 cinemas, Tamil Nadu.
The Court was told that prior to 2017, dual MRP fixation was allowed. However, after the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) (Amendment) Rules, 2017 took effect in January 2018, no such sale at dual prices is allowed or carried out, the Court was informed further.
The Court, however, took note of the petitioner's grievance that no action was taken on his complaint and that there were other issues such as no water facility being provided in theatres, or the water facilities in place being unhygienic.
Cinema-goers are forced to purchase water bottles and other packed food, at exorbitant prices, the petitioner had complained. The judge further observed that there are many such complaints in the public domain and that the action taken against such conduct appears insufficient.
"For such purchase of drinking water bottles, snacks etc., on the higher price, illegalities, if any, committed cannot be condoned merely on the ground of delay," the Court opined, addressing arguments that the incident referred to by the petitioner dated back to 2016.
As such, the Court issued the following directions:
The petitioner was directed to submit his complaint to the Joint Commissioner, Department of Legal Metrology, within two weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of the order. The authority was directed to conduct an appropriate enquiry and pass orders within three months.
The authorities should conduct inspections to ensure that purified drinking water facilities are adequately provided in cinema theatres within two months from the date of receiving a copy of the order. The authorities are also to ensure that clean and hygiene restrooms or toilets are provided adequately. It is to be verified that the other statutory requirements are complied with.
The Joint Commissioner, Department of Legal Metrology was directed to ensure that complaints submitted by the public are enquired into immediately and appropriate action is taken.
The petitioner, G Devarajan, appeared party-in-person. Government Advocate C Kathiravan represented the State authorities. Senior Advocate Satish Parasaran assisted by Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas appeared for Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd and S2 Cinemas.