By T S Sekaran – CHENNAI
24th January 2013 0
In an important judgment having far-reaching consequences, the Madras High Court has declared unconstitutional certain provisions of the TN Dramatic Performances Act and Rules, which mandated censorship of drama scripts by the police/district administration.
Justice K Chandru declared sections 2(1), 3, 4, 6 and 7 of the Act and 4 of the Rules, while allowing a writ petition from journalist, writer, stage actor and director NS Sankaran alias Gnani, on Wednesday.
The Act was originally introduced by the British regime way back in 1876 to gag the freedom fighters and patriots. After Independence, on coming to know that the pre-constitutional 1876 Act would not pass the constitutional test under Article 13 of the Constitution, many governments introduced their own version of censorship of plays. And the TN government introduced the TN Dramatic Performances Act in 1954.
As per the Act, two copies of the drama script should be submitted to the police/district administration three weeks in advance. Permission to enact the drama might be either denied or granted after removing certain dialogues. The Act also provided for imprisonment for three months or fine or both in some cases for any violation.
Gnani contended that the authorities concerned were neither artistes nor persons having aesthetic sense to judge whether a play contained objectionable scenes/dialogues and hence it was uncalled for. The decision was conveyed at the eleventh hour leaving no time to make alternative arrangements.
Advocate General A Navaneethakrishnan submitted that the government was agreeable to provide a provision in the Act and the Rules making it mandatory for forwarding the script to the TN Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram for better appreciation of artistic nuances. There was also a provision in the Act to appeal before the HC, he added.
Justice Chandru observed that a defective order could not be cured in an appeal. When the play was sought to be enacted in a public place, time was the essential factor. But, the Act did not specify any time limit for approval. AG’s submission that the script could be referred to the Nataka Mandram did not merit any legal acceptance as the act did not contemplate any such requirement from an outside agency for opinion.
The opinion would not be binding on the authority and it would only remain as an advisory. By making an amendment to the Rule, the defect could not be cured. Once it was found that the provisions of the Act were arbitrary and excessive power had been given to the delegates, certainly it had to be held that it was unconstitutional and violative of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution. In the absence of statutory backing, no such mechanism could be introduced by the State, the judge said and declared the sections as ultra vires of the Constitution.