The Supreme Court of India today directed the West Bengal government to pay Rs. 20 lakh to the producer of the film Bhobhishyoter Bhoot for the “unofficial” ban it faced in the state.

Police authorities had apparently ordered that it be removed from screens immediately after its release as the “contents of the film may hurt public sentiments which may lead to political law and order issues” as per a letter written to the producers of the film, according to reports.

Anik Datta – the director of the film – had stated that the Kolkata Police had written to one of the producers of the film insisting that police clearance was required for the film as certain portions of it could stoke trouble. Over and above the compensation amount of Rs.20 lakhs, the apex court has also imposed a cost of Rs. 1 lakh on the West Bengal government.

A petition filed in the Supreme Court by advocate Rukshana Chowdhury on behalf of the producers of the film claimed that it had been removed from the screens at the instructions of “higher authorities” as per personnel on the spot.

The Supreme Court bench of D Y Justice Chandrachud and Justice Hemant Gupta passed the ruling today noting the “growing intolerance” in the country over artistic license.

Adding that “free speech cannot be gagged for the fear of mob”, the bench came down heavily on attempts to muffle the voices of dissent. Earlier on March 16, West Bengal chief secretary, home secretary and director-general of police had been instructed by the apex court to ensure that there is no interference with the screening of Bhobhishyoter Bhoot.

Justice Chandrachud and Justice Gupta had deliberated on the matter stating that “once a movie is certified by (the) Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), it is not open to any authority to issue formal or informal directions preventing the producer from having the movie screened”.

If such a thing happens, it then “infringes the rights under Article 19” which relate to the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the court had added.

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