The Supreme Court on Tuesday said playing the national anthem before screening of a movie in cinemas was not mandatory any more, reversing an order issued more than a year ago.
The court left the decision to play the anthem to theatre owners a day after the Centre asked it to put on hold its November 2016 order that had made the anthem a must in cinemas.
"The interim order passed on November 30, 2016 is modified that playing of national anthem prior to screening of a film is not mandatory or directory,” a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said.
The bench said a 12-member inter-ministerial committee, set up by the Centre, would take a final call on the playing of the national anthem in the cinemas.
The Centre's decision had come after the top court had in October last year observed that the people "cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves" and it cannot be assumed that if a person does not stand up for the national anthem, he or she is "less patriotic".
Observing that the society did not need "moral policing", the court had then said that next time, "the government will want people to stop wearing T-shirts and shorts to cinemas saying this would disrespect the national anthem."
However, if the anthem is played, patrons in the hall are bound to show respect by standing up. The court clarified that the exception granted to disabled persons from standing up during the anthem "shall remain in force on all occasions”.
The court, this time, instead of shooting from its own shoulders, banked on a Home Ministry order of 2015, which directs that "whenever the Anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention”.
"Playing of the anthem is directive, but showing respect is mandatory,” Chief Justice Misra orally observed.
The inter-ministerial committee, set up by the Centre, would come up with an extensive anthem code clearly listing out the dos and the don’ts, the court said, disposing of a public interest litigation (PIL).
The PIL had sought directions to the government to ensure the anthem was played in all cinemas, a protocol fixed for its singing and norms that specified what constituted disrespect and abuse of the song.
In an affidavit on Monday, the Centre asked the court to put on hold the November 2016 order, as it needed six months to come out with the anthem guidelines.
Giving the government a final say in the matter, the bench admitted it was not possible to give a list of occasions to play the anthem.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) President Asaduddin Owaisi on Tuesday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision.
"I totally welcome the order of the Supreme Court. Under the previous order, many people were harassed, especially people from the minority community, who were physically handicapped were targetted by all so-called vigilantes who support the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)," he said.