The Supreme Court has ruled that courts cannot interfere with government policies on the ground that a better, fairer or wiser alternative is available. "Legality of the policy, and not the wisdom or soundness of the policy, is the subject of judicial review," a Bench of Justices Tarun Chatterjee and RV Raveendran said upholding the Centre's policy of allowing only the films certified by the censor board to bid for National Film Awards.
"Courts do not and cannot act as Appellate Authorities examining the correctness, suitability and appropriateness of a policy. Nor are courts advisors to the executive on matters of policy which the executive is entitled to formulate," it said.
The Bench clarified: "the scope of judicial review when examining a policy…is to check whether it violates the fundamental rights of citizens or is opposed to provisions of the Constitution or opposed to any statutory provision or (is) manifestly arbitrary."
In the backdrop of the debate over a pro-active judiciary making incursions into the executive's domain, the Court's observations are instructive. Barely three days ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had cautioned against "judicial over-reach" and the courts playing the executive. At the Conference of chief ministers and High Court chief justices in New Delhi on April 8, he reminded the judiciary that the dividing line between judicial activism and judicial over-reach was a thin one and all organs, including the judiciary, should guard against breaching the dividing lines.
Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan had conceded that judicial review could sometimes create tension between the three organs of the state but argued that such tensions were "natural and to some extent, desirable".
The apex court set aside a Bombay High Court order asking the Government to allow even uncensored films to take part in the National Film Awards.
"The government is not interested in evaluating or giving an award to a film which may never be seen by the public or at all events never be seen in an 'uncensored' form…"
"The…policy neither relates to nor interferes with the right of a filmmaker either to make films, or to apply for a certificate to exhibit the films. There is nothing illogical, unreasonable or arbitrary about a policy to select only the best from among films certified for public exhibition," the Bench said.
It further said, "the requirement that films should have been certified by the Central Board of Film Certification between January 1 and December 31, 2005 for entry for the 53rd National Film Awards is not an unreasonable restriction on any fundamental rights of the…filmmakers".