Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to conduct stakeholder consultation to make films disabled friendly; Delhi High Court on petition to subtitle movie ‘Pathaan’

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: The petitioners sought to incorporate sub-titling, captioning and audio description for the movie ‘Pathaan’ and making the film viewing enjoyable for visually and hearing-impaired persons. The Court was asked to consider the provisions of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (‘Act of 2016’) wherein it was recognised that a very important issue as to the accessibility to various modes of entertainment for the hearing and visually impaired persons were raised. While exercising its writ jurisdiction, the Single Judge Bench of Pratibha M. Singh,J. directed the Center to hold a stakeholder consultation for making films disabled friendly and to ensure implementation of Act of 2016. The Bench had directed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting along with other relevant Ministries to hold the consultation with film producers, OTT platforms operating in India, television broadcasters, association of theater owners, organizations consisting of disabled persons, distributors of films and any other stakeholders it may consider appropriate.

The Court had earlier after considering the observation made in Rajive Raturi v. Union of India, (2018) 2 SCC 413 deemed it fit to issue interim directions to the producer stating that the release of the film on Amazon’s OTT platform would be done with the audio description, subtitles in Hindi and English language and to provide an overall and holistic solution to the question raised in the petition, the Court had directed to implead appropriate Ministries and certain parties.

The Bench perused the circular dated 01-10-2019 issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which encouraged accessibility of Cinema to all including persons with disabilities through audio description on an urgent basis which was sent to various film producers’ association.

Upon perusing Section 2(x) of the Act of 2016, the Bench stated that public services and facilities had been defined in a very broad manner which included leisure or recreational facilities as well. Therefore, opined that while the directions in respect of the movie ‘Pathaan’ had been implemented, a broad stakeholder consultation would be required in order to ensure that the Act of 2016 as also the 2019 circular was implemented both in letter and spirit.

The Bench thus, directed he Ministry of Information and Broadcasting along with the other relevant Ministries may hold a stakeholder consultation with the following sets of stakeholders.

i. Film producers both in national and regional languages.

ii. OTT platforms which are operating in India.

iii. Television Broadcasters- Indian Broadcasting & Digital Foundation (IBDF)/News Broadcasters & Digital Association (NBDA)

iv. Association of theatre owners

v. Organizations for disabled persons.

vi. Film Distributors

vii. Service providers who run the delivery platforms in theatres such as XL Cinema.

viii. Bureau of Indian Standards

ix. Manufacturers of hardware and

x. Software developers of accessibility features.

xi. Any other stakeholders as the Ministry may consider appropriate.

The Bench stated that the ministry was free to frame guidelines which may be placed on record before the Court before the next date of hearing. It further stated that the stakeholder consultation would have sign language interpretation to enable the hearing-impaired persons to join the same.

The matter was adjourned for hearing on 26-09-2023.

[Akshat Baldwa v YashRaj Films, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 2027, decided on 06-04-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case:

For the Petitioner- Advocate Aditya Gupta and Advocate Rahul Bajaj;

For the Respondent- Advocate Abhishek Malhotra, Advocate Sapna Chaurasia, Advocate Harsh Buch, Advocate Srishti Gupta and Advocate Shilpa Gamnani, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, Central Government Standing Counsel Ravi Prakash, Advocate Farman Ali, Advocate M. Aman Rewaria, Advocate Usha Jamnal & Advocate Astu Khandelwal, Advocate Sneha Jain, Advocate Devvrat Joshi, Advocate Angad S Makkar, Advocate Nitin Sharma, Advocate Deepika Pokharia and Advocate Kuber Mahajan, Advocate Kunnal, Advocate Pranay Sarthi.

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