Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of S.J. Kathawalla and R.I. Chagla, JJ., quashed and set aside the unreasonable restriction placed by the State of Maharashtra on prohibiting the actors, crew members, etc. who are above the age of 65 years from being present at the site of the shooting of films/television series/Over The Top Media (OTT) in light of the same being discriminatory.
Petitioner is an actor by profession who had challenged the condition imposed by the Government of Maharashtra’s Resolution according to which persons above the age of 65 years are prohibited from remaining present at the site of the shooting of films/television series/Over The Top Media (OTT).
Discriminatory and Arbitrary
The government resolution is discriminatory, arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India because at the time the same was issued, Central, as well as the Maharashtra Government, had relaxed the general prohibition on the movement of persons above the age of 65 years.
Right to Carry on Trade and Occupation
As against this, a prohibition on the movement of persons above the age of 65 years continued to operate in the film and television industry. It is also submitted that the impugned condition is an unreasonable restriction on the petitioners’ right to carry on their trade and occupation, as also the impugned condition deprives the petitioner of his right to earn a livelihood with dignity.
Government Pleader for the Respondent State, Purnima H. Kantharia submitted that the Government of Maharashtra’s Resolution is based on Centres’ order passed under the DM Act.
Further, he added that, the restrictions are in the interest of persons with low or weak immunity as the disease is easily communicable.
The restriction is not absolute. Persons above the age of 65 years may work from home, over video conferencing, email, video sharing etc.
Until the Central and State Governments relax the guidelines, the Respondent is bound to strictly implement the aforesaid Orders issued under the DM Act, as the MHA Orders specifically provide for strict enforcement of the Lockdown Orders by the respective State Governments.
“…though the Impugned Condition reads as a prohibition, no coercive action will be taken against anyone above the age of 65 years who chooses to remain present at the site of the shooting of films/television series / OTT. The prohibition is issued in the interest of the health and safety of persons who are above the age of 65 years and is to be read as such.”
Analysis and Decision
Bench while analysing the facts and circumstances of the case, started while stating that Sections 38 and 39 of the DM Act empower the State Government to take measures to deal with the disaster at hand, which in this case is the Covid-19 pandemic.
Keeping the above in mind and being fully conscious of the hardship and risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Court first considered the challenge to the impugned condition under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
In Court’s opinion, impugned condition was not based on any intelligible differentia.
Whilst there may be a nexus with the object sought to be achieved, i.e. to protect vulnerable people from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no intelligible differentia between persons who are 65 years of age or above in the cast/crew of films and TV shootings on the one hand and persons who are 65 years of age or above in other sectors and services, permitted under prevailing lockdown orders.
Thus, there is discrimination in the disparate treatment of persons who are 65 years of age or above in the film or television industry and in the other permitted sectors and permitted activities and no explanation on the said aspect has been given by the State Government.
Hence, Impugned Condition, therefore, cannot be sustained in view of the well-settled principles enunciated under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
Further, the said impugned condition also failed to take into consideration the relevant material, namely the relaxation contained in orders dated 30th May 2020 and 31st May 2020 issued by MHA and the Government of Maharashtra respectively, which reads as an advisory for persons above the age of 65 years.
Impugned Condition in light of Article 21 of the Constitution
Citing the decision of Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corpn., (1985) 3 SCC 545, it was stated that the Righto Earn a livelihood and the Right to Live with Dignity are well-established facets of the Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Court added that coming to the conclusion that the impugned condition cannot be sustained on account of it being discriminatory and arbitrary, stated
“we are satisfied that the absolute prohibition as regards persons above the age of 65 years who earn their livelihood from the film industry (which is allowed to operate), is a measure that violates the Petitioner’s right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution and the restriction imposed by the Impugned Condition in relation to a specific sector or industry that is now allowed to operate, cannot constitute a valid procedure established by law.”
Hence, on perusal of the above observations, the Court held that if there are no general prohibitions on persons above the age of 65 years from working or practicing their trade in those sectors and businesses which are allowed to operate, an age-based prohibition in only one industry namely the film industry/television / OTT, without any material to support its differential classification, would constitute an unreasonable restriction.
The stated impugned condition was quashed and set aside in view of being an unreasonable restriction. [Pramod Pandey v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 846, decided on 07-08-2020]