The Supreme Court’s directive to cinema theatre-owners to play the national anthem with the image of the national flag on screen prior to showing films and its order to audiences to stand up to show respect are extraordinary indeed. It is not as though there is anything wrong in principle. Far from it. But that the directive has come from the apex court and not from the government is somewhat odd. Though seemingly innocuous, the directive reflects a tendency on the part of the judiciary to overreach its role, as eminent jurist Rajeev Dhawan has opined in his reaction to the order.
At a time when the apex court is so exercised over the shortage of judges in the higher judiciary and is time and again blaming the executive over the vacancies, it is expected of it to leave the executive’s functions to it and not encroach upon them. It is indeed not the business of the judiciary to inculcate in the people a sense of patriotism. A well-meaning advice to the government would have been in order. Not for nothing has former Attorney-General Soli Sarabjee described the Supreme Court’s directive as ‘judicial legislation’ which he says goes beyond the Constitution. Evidently, this is a new coinage to describe the alleged extra-judicial nature of the order.
All said and done, however, there can be no quarrel with the intent of the order. National spirit needs to be inculcated among countrymen at large, and if this directive would help in rekindling a spirit of patriotism, why should standing to the national anthem not be done? The court has not thought of the possibility of some people not standing up when the national anthem is played. Would it be fair to impose a responsibility of ensuring compliance on the theatre-owners? What if some people start leaving the theatre just before the movie ends? Would it be right to force them to stay on? Would the apex court like to force the cinema theatre owners to play the national anthem or face punishment that may be determined through a legislation passed by the government? All aspects would need to be examined if the Supreme Court’s directive is to be enforced. The apex court has said that the order must be enforced in 10 days. Whether that would be practical is the moot question.