National Anthem issue: Inter-Ministerial Committee panel to seek more time to firm up statutory requirements for playing national anthem in cinema halls and public places

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As per reports, the Inter-Ministerial committee set up to submit a report on the requirements for playing national anthem in cinema halls and public places, is likely to seek more time from the Supreme Court to submit its report.

The committee is learnt to have firmed its view that if the national anthem is played as part of the movie, standing up for it during the course of the film will interrupt the screening, and create disorder and confusion, instead of adding to the dignity of the anthem.

The 12-member panel, set up on December 5, 2017, was given six months by the Supreme Court until June to firm up statutory requirements on playing the anthem in cinema halls and public places.

Ahead of the deadline to finalise national anthem protocol, the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has informed the inter-ministerial committee that before 1971 it was customary for cinema halls across the country to play the national anthem before a movie began.

The panel headed by Secretary (border management) B R Sharma at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) met on May 1, 2018 and discussed the guidelines issued by the I&B Ministry, including Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, passed in 1971. Officials who were part of the deliberations have reportedly said that the inter-ministerial committee is likely to seek more time from the Supreme Court, as it would require further consultations after new facts were brought to notice by the I&B Ministry.

Besides MHA, other members in the committee include officers nominated by the ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Women and Child Development, HRD, Culture, Parliamentary Affairs, Law, Minority Affairs, I&B, and the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities.

The Supreme Court had vide order dated January 9, 2018 reversed its earlier order of November 30, 2016 and held that playing of national anthem in cinema halls before screening of films is no longer mandatory and left it to a government panel to frame guidelines on this sensitive matter. The apex court had said that playing of national anthem in cinema halls before screening of movies would now be optional and in that case the audience will have to stand as a show of respect. The direction came after the Centre made a plea to the apex court to modify its November 30, 2016 order that made it mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anthem before screening of a film during which the audience was also required to stand. The order had sparked a nationwide debate. The top court, while disposing of the petitions pending before it, had made it clear that the exemption granted earlier to disabled persons from standing in cinema halls when national anthem was being played, shall remain in force till the committee takes a decision. The bench accepted the Centre’s affidavit which said the 12-member panel has been set up to suggest changes in the 1971 Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.

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