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Dasmunshi's Delusions

The decision of the union minister for information and broadcasting, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi to pack the advisory panels on film censorship with office-bearers of the Youth Congress undermines a quasi-judicial authority.

Civil liberties

Dasmunshi’s Delusions

The decision of the union minister for information and broadcasting, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi to pack the advisory panels on film censorship with office-bearers of the Youth Congress undermines

a quasi-judicial authority.

A G NOORANI

T
he union minister for information and broadcasting, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, has eloquently proclaimed his unfitness for the job and cast grave doubts on his fitness for any other in a country governed by the rule of law with a clear, established demarcation between the state and the government, and the government and the party. One leaves aside the boorish manner in which he speaks to the audio-visual media. That is his style of imparting information.

But his action in appointing as many as 28 members of his own party, the Indian National Congress, all in one go, to the advisory panels of the Central Board of Film Certification does more than reveal his mentality. It undermines the entire apparatus of the scheme of film censorship which erects avowedly a quasi-judicial authority.

Varghese K George rendered a service by his report in Indian Express of November 3, 2006. It bears quotation in extenso.

In a set of innocuous-sounding notifications issued by director, films of the I and B ministry on October 30, almost all national office-bearers of the Indian Youth Congress and several state unit presidents have been appointed to six regional panels at Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi. And those who are left out for now are likely to find place in Kolkata and Cuttack expected to be expanded soon.

Apparently, three months ago, at a Youth Congress National Convention, the minister assured his flock that “he would appoint party workers to all committees under his ministry”. It is Jim Hacker’s philosophy “Jobs for the Boys”. To be sure, every government at the centre has used these panels to provide berths for supporters to whom some favour had to be done. But such a sweeping action has few, if any, precedents.

The correspondent adds:

Unit presidents of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondicherry, Maharashtra, Mumbai, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, UP, Uttaranchal, Punjab are among the new appointees. Seventeen members of the national committee of the Youth Congress also will play the double role of censors. Members of the advisory panel get Rs 500 for each sitting and are not entitled to any other emoluments. Those who have been members complain that it is a thankless job but Youth Congress workers are clearly excited about the prospects. “It is an encouragement for party workers. This also gives our workers an opportunity to assess and decide on the what is vulgar and what is acceptable”, says Ashok Tanwar, Youth Congress president. Sunil Ahire, Mumbai Youth Congress president, feels his new job will help him promote films that “inculcates good social values”. “Crime and violence should be discouraged. At the same time, we must remember that films are entertainment that helps viewers forget their real lives for some time”, he says.

The appointees go to the panels with a marked mindset.

Never before have persons with a publicly proclaimed outlook been appointed to these panels. Remember, the Appellate Tribunal for film censorship, set up by Section 5D of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, in 1981, but actually notified in 1983, was in belated fulfilment of an assurance which the government of India gave to the Supreme Court in the case of Khuraja Ahmad Abbas filed in respect of his film A Tale of Two Cities ( K A Abbas vs Union of India AIR 1971 AX 481). The tribunal is at the top of a system of several tiers as part of an entire quasi-judicial process.

Advisory panels are set up at regional centres comprising “persons qualified in the opinion of the central government to judge the effect of films on the public”. There is no limit to the membership. Consultation with the board is enjoined for all save one-third of the members. It is organised patronage.

A film is first viewed by an examining committee comprising four members of the advisory panel plus an official. He can be the CEO, regional officer or even the secretary to the chairman. It is the regional officer who sets up this committee and, presumably, selects its members.

On receipt of its report, the chairman of the CBFC may either of his own accord, if he disagrees with it, or on “the request of the applicant”, refer the film to a revising committee comprising the chairman and nine members either from the board or members of the advisory panel other than the ones who served on the examining committee. Thus, the chairman of the board cannot only nullify the examining committee’s verdict, but also select the members of the revising committee over which he presides to review the earlier verdict. If he disagrees with the decision of the revising committee as well, the board or another revising committee he selects examines the film. The decision of the board or the second revising committee, as the case may be, is final. Appeals, however, go to an Appellate Tribunal.

We now have on these bodies men manifestly appointed for extraneous considerations proclaimed toall who can hear. The distinctive qualification of a whole block of members of the Youth Congress “to judge the effect of films on the public” as required by S 5D of the Act is known only to Dasmunshi. The appointments are liable to be set aside on a writ/petition to the high court by any citizen. So, also their decisions. For, they have publicly proclaimed their bias and their whole mindset. This vitiates the establishment of the panels completely.

EPW

Economic and Political Weekly December 16, 2006

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