NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday the owners of cinema halls are entitled to set the terms and conditions for sale of food and beverages and can determine whether outside food should be permitted within the theatre precincts.
The apex court set aside a direction of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court which had in July 2018 directed multiplex and cinema hall owners there not to prohibit movie goers from carrying their own food articles and water inside the theatres.
A bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha observed that cinema hall is a private property of the owner, who is entitled to have terms and conditions so long as they are not contrary to public interest, safety and welfare.
"Viewers visit a cinema hall for the purpose of entertainment. We are clearly of the view that the high court transgressed the limits in the exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution by ordering and directing the state to ensure that there should be no prohibition on a movie goer bringing eatables and beverages from outside within the precinct of a cinema hall," the bench said.
The top court was hearing a batch of pleas challenging the direction given by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
The bench said whether or not to see a movie is entirely the choice of the viewer and, if he or she seeks to enter a cinema hall, they have to abide by the terms and conditions subject to which the entry is granted.
" .it is open to the theatre owner to determine as to whether food from outside the precinct of the hall should be permitted within," it said, adding that it is evidently a matter of commercial decision of a theatre owner.
The bench noted that during the course of the arguments before it, the counsel appearing for the appellants stated that due arrangements are made for the supply of hygienic drinking water to the movie goers without levying any charge within the precinct of the cinema hall.
The apex court said it was also stated before it that where an infant or a young child accompanies the parents, as a matter of practice, the cinema hall owners have no objection to reasonable amount of food being carried for the child to serve the nutritional requirements.
It observed that whether or not to purchase, food or beverages after given admission to the cinema hall is entirely the choice of a movie goer.
"The property of the cinema hall constitutes a private property of the owner of the hall. The owner of the hall is entitled to have terms and conditions so long as such terms and conditions are not contrary to public interest, safety and welfare," it said.
Advocate Sumeer Sodhi, appearing for one of the appellants G S Malls Pvt. Ltd, argued the receipts issued by theatre owners have a specific condition mentioned on them to the effect that no outside food is allowed.
The court said the owner of a private property has the right to decide what can be brought in and what not subject to rules.
"Now, the regulation of what can be brought, what cannot be brought within the precincts of a private property . is for the owner of the property to decide, subject to statutory rules which regulate his activity," the CJI said.
"Suppose, somebody starts getting 'jalebis' into the cinema hall, the owner could say you eat your 'jalebis' and wipe your hands on the seats," Justice Chandrachud said, adding, "I am just giving you an example."
The bench observed the fundamental aspect which needs to be noted is that the trade and business of conducting a cinema theatre is subject to regulation by the state which has framed the Jammu and Kashmir Cinemas (Regulation) Rules, 1975.
It said, admittedly, the rules contain no mandate compelling the owner of a cinema theatre to allow a movie goer to bring food or beverages within the precinct of the theatre.
The bench said it needed no emphasis that the rule making power of the state has to be exercised in a manner consistent with the fundamental right of the hall owners to carry on a legitimate trade and business within the meaning of Article 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution.
In August 2018, the top court had stayed the high court direction to the cinema hall and multiplex owners of the state not to prohibit movie goers from carrying own food and water inside the theatres.
Besides the relaxation on carrying food items inside the theatres, the high court had on July 18, 2018 passed a number of directions related to cinema halls.
The high court had issued a slew of directions on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by two lawyers, seeking a direction for the implementation of the Jammu and Kashmir Cinemas (Regulation) Rules, 1975 in their letter and spirit.
The PIL before the high court had sought a direction prohibiting the cinema hall owners from restraining the movie goers from taking outside eatables with them inside.
In its order, the high court had directed the state government, the licensing authority and district magistrates to ensure that a ban on polythene bags at multiplexes and cinema halls was strictly enforced.