EXPLAINED| Why Supreme Court finds no fault in cinema hall owners prohibiting outside food and beverages

Supreme Court: The division bench of Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, CJ* and P.S. Narasimha J., set aside the impugned order of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and stated that the movie goers are bound by the condition of entry determined by the theatre owners i.e., prohibition on carrying food and beverages from outside into the precincts of the movie hall.

In the matter at hand, a batch of appeals impugned the order of the Division Bench of Jammu and Kashmir High Court which had held that the Kashmir Cinemas (Regulation) Rules, 1975 (‘1975 Rules’) do not prohibit cinema goers from carrying their own food articles and water bottles to multiplexes or cinema halls.

The High Court was of the view that as a consequence of the prohibition, which was imposed by cinema hall owners, viewers were compelled to purchase food of such nature as was offered for sale. Infants who are required to be fed at periodic intervals cannot as a consequence, be given food by accompanying parents or guardians. Viewers are compelled to purchase “junk” food at the food stalls within the theatre and are required to pay exorbitant charges for the food, which is purchased which affects the younger generation, senior citizens, patients with diabetes, etc. The said prohibition violates the right not to eat “junk” food and the right to good health, under Article 21 of the Constitution. Therefore, the High Court had directed the owners of multiplexes or cinema halls owners of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (‘J&K’) to not to prohibit the viewers henceforth, from carrying their own food articles.

The Court noted that the original petitioners before the J&K High Court, did not file a suit for damages but instituted a Public Interest Litigation and invoked High Court’s jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. The issue for consideration thus became of maintainability, High Court exercising its writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution.

Court’s Analysis

The Supreme Court stated had this been a case where the original petitioners had suffered injuries due to the prohibition on carrying food and beverages into the movie hall, the proper remedy would have been to file a suit instead of a writ.

The Court navigated through Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution which includes rights of the citizens to generate economic benefits on which the State may impose reasonable restrictions, in terms of Article 19(6) of the Constitution. The Court stated that the trade and business of operating cinema theatres was subject to regulation by the State which had framed the 1975 Rules to regulate the industry. The same do not contain a rule compelling the owner of a cinema theatre to allow a movie goer to bring food or beverages from outside within the precincts of the theatre. Neither other similar enactments and rules regulating the industry such as the Cinematograph Act 1952, the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules 1983, the Jammu and Kashmir Cinematograph Act 1989, and the Jammu and Kashmir Cinematograph Rules 1989, contain such a provision.

Considering the fact that the legislature had omitted to add such a specific mandate in any of the applicable laws, the Supreme Court held that the High Court erred in exercising its writ jurisdiction in prohibiting theatre owners from disallowing food and beverages to be brought in by persons entering a movie theatre.

The Court further stated that the cinema hall is a private property of the owner who is very much entitled to stipulate terms and conditions so long as they are not contrary to public interest, safety and welfare. He is also entitled to determine the business model to be followed and to regulate the terms on which such sale should take place.

“A prohibition on carrying food and beverages from outside into the precincts of the movie hall is not contrary to public interest, safety or welfare.” asserted the Supreme Court.

Disagreeing with the view of the High Court in allowing to carry outside food and beverages, the Supreme Court stated that “This would be akin to permitting a customer who visits a restaurant to carry their own food to that restaurant and eat it within the premises of that restaurant.

While answering a point of contention related to the exorbitant pricing of the food and beverages inside the precinct of the cinema hall which was considered by the High Court, Supreme Court stated that the theatre owners may decide the contents of the menu they offer, similar to restaurants deciding their menu or similar to theatre owners themselves deciding which movies to screen. This is a commercial decision which the theatre owners are entitled to make including the price point at which the goods and services be sold.

Manoeuvring over to another point of contention which was considered by the High Court, related to only ‘junk food’ being available at the cinema complexes which was stated to be going against the ethos of right to good health, the Court was of the view that the movie goers were in no way compelled to buy food at the cinema hall.

The Court, hence, stated that if viewers sought to enter a cinema hall, they must abide by the terms and conditions subject to which entry is granted.

“Having reserved the right of admission, it is open to theatre owners to determine whether food from outside the precincts of the cinema hall should be permitted to be carried inside.”

The Supreme Court held that the J&K High Court transgressed its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution by directing the cinema hall owners not to prohibit movie goers from carrying eatables and beverages from outside within the precincts of a cinema hall and by directing the State to enforce this direction to the cinema hall owners.

“Absent a statutory regulation which regulates the right to conduct the business of operating a cinema hall, the imposition of such a restraint would affect the legitimate rights of a theatre owner.”

To test whether the parties at hand had an unequal bargaining power relative to one another and also to ascertain whether a contractual term was unfair, unreasonable or unconscionable, the Court relied upon Central Inland Water Transport Corporation. v. Brojo Nath Ganguly, (1986) 3 SCC 156. In the case at hand, the Court stated that although theatre owners may unilaterally determine the conditions of entry into cinema hall, the condition imposed in this instance is not unfair, unreasonable or unconscionable.

“Many private museums do not permit customers to take photographs of the objects on display…. Audience members are often banned from recording musical performances at concerts. Music festivals, much like movie theatres, do not permit attendees to carry their own food or beverages to the venue… movie goers are bound by the condition of entry determined by the theatre owners in the instant case….”

The Court however stated that due arrangements should be made for supply of hygienic drinking water without levying any charge within the precincts of the cinema hall. In addition, no objection should be raised to a reasonable amount of food carried inside the cinema hall by parents or guardians accompanied with infant and young children. The Court went on to request the cinema hall owners to consider plea from such movie goers who suffer from chronic diseases following dietary instructions, on a case-by-case basis.

The Supreme Court, therefore, allowed the appeal filed by K.C. Cinema and set aside the impugned judgement passed by the J&K High Court which had allowed outside food within the confines of cinema halls. Further stated that the remaining directions of the High Court did not form the subject matter of the said appeals and were, therefore, not dealt with in the present judgment.

[K.C. Cinema v. State of Jammu and Kashmir, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 22, decided on 03-01-2023]

*Judgment by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

Know Thy Judge| Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

Advocates who appeared in this case:

K.V. Viswanathan, Senior Advocate Niranjan Reddy and Advocate Sumeer Sodhi, Senior Advocate for the Appellant;

Bimal Roy Jad, Senior Advocate, for the Respondent.

*Simran Singh, Editorial Assistant has put together this brief.

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