In a major setback to the health ministry's five-month-old project of clamping down on smoking scenes in films and television shows, the law ministry has cautioned it against taking any hasty decision on the "sensitive" issue.
The health ministry had sought the opinion of the government's legal arm after serious differences arose with the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, which refused to accept the decision. In his noting, law minister Salman Khurshid stated: "It needs to be examined whether the restrictions imposed are reasonable, and the health ministry should be advised accordingly."
Trouble first cropped up last October, when the health ministry decided to implement the relevant clause of a law regulating advertisements of tobacco products, which specifically applied to films and TV shows. The notification, which came into effect on November 14, made it mandatory for all new movies that have scenes pertaining to smoking scenes or tobacco use to provide valid explanations for the same. It also made it compulsory for the authorities concerned to run a scroll, depicting anti-tobacco health warnings, at the bottom of the screen during the duration of the scenes.
The I&B ministry hit back immediately, virtually asking the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to ignore the health ministry directive and continue with the existing guidelines for providing certificates to films.
Following this, the health ministry asked the law ministry whether any other ministry had the powers to overrule or stay its notification.
In its initial response, the law ministry endorsed the stand adopted by the health ministry.
Khurshid, however, rejected the earlier contention and made it clear that "any unreasonable restriction would be vulnerable to judicial scrutiny, and notifications should be reasonable and legally tenable."