Cinema hall owners can restrict outside food, beverages, rules Supreme Court
The multiplex owners challenged a decision of July 18, 2018, passed by the J&K high court permitting moviegoers to bring outside food inside the cinema hall
Owners of cinema halls can restrict moviegoers from bringing outside food, ruled the Supreme Court on Tuesday holding that cinema hall is the private property of the owner who is within rights to impose such ‘terms and conditions’ on the right of entry of persons visiting the hall.
The top court further ruled that theatre owners cannot be asked to fix uniform ticket rates as the facilities provided by theaters may vary depending on the audience that they cater to.
Hearing a batch of appeals filed by multiplex owners and theatre owners of Jammu and Kashmir, the bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and justice PS Narasimha said, “The property of cinema halls constitutes private property of the owner of the cinema hall. The owner is entitled to fix such terms and conditions so long as it is not opposed to the public interest, safety and welfare.”
The multiplex owners challenged a decision of July 18, 2018, passed by the J&K high court permitting moviegoers to bring outside food inside the cinema hall. The petitioners before the HC were two practising lawyers who complained that nutritious food is not served inside the theatres and zthat the J&K (Regulation) Rules 1975 does not prohibit bringing outside food. They further argued that due to the prohibition, moviegoers are forced to purchase food inside the theatre at exorbitant rates.
The bench told the petitioners, “A cinema hall is not a gym or a place for nutritious food but a place for entertainment. If somebody brings jalebis or tandoori chicken inside the hall, it is for the owner to decide that I do not want my hall to be dirty as somebody may wipe their hands on the seats.”
The apex court further envisaged a situation where a person may object to lemon water being sold inside the theatre for ₹20 and decide to bring lemon and make his own drink inside the theatre.
The top court said that the HC exceeded its jurisdiction by lifting the prohibition on bringing outside food when the 1975 regulations did not provide any specific mandate to the owners for allowing outside food.
The bench said, “If viewer seeks to enter the hall, they must abide by the J&K regulations subject to which entry is granted. Having reserved right of admission, it is open for the owner to permit or not permit any food inside the hall. It is a matter left to the owner. The HC has exceeded its jurisdiction in directing what was absent in the regulations.”
The theatre owners represented by senior advocates KV Vishwanathan and S Niranjan Reddy pointed out that the ticket issued to moviegoers is the contract between the theatre owner and the viewer. According to them, the back of the ticket provided a restriction on bringing outside food. However, they submitted that no hall will be unreasonable to not permit infant food or a bottle of milk for feeding the infant or young child during the duration of the movie. It was further pointed out that all theatres are providing free and hygienic drinking water at their facilities.
The bench recorded this submission while setting aside the direction of the J&K HC restricted to that portion of the order allowing outside food. Another direction pertained to the pricing of tickets to which the top court said that since the “Cinema (Regulation) Rules” applicable to ticket pricing in J&K were not under challenge before the HC, the direction of the HC in this regard shall not be treated as imposing any condition on the Rules as it stands.
The petitioners before the HC were represented by senior advocate Bimal Kumar Jad who told the top court that the tickets issued by theatres varied between ₹500 to ₹800 and there should be uniformity as regards the price of tickets and food sold at theatres.
The bench remarked, “How can there be uniformity in ticket prices? Some theatres give you recliners, some are air-conditioned, and others are not. They cater to a different audience. Can you suggest that multiplexes in Srinagar should charge the same as multiplexes in Delhi?”
Along with the batch of appeals from J&K, the top court also heard and decided separate appeals filed against orders passed by the MP high court raising similar issues and transfer petitions filed by two individuals to bring similar matters pending before the high courts of Delhi and Bombay on the aspect of allowing outside food in theatres to the top court.
In the case pertaining to Madhya Pradesh, the order under challenge was passed by the Indore bench of the high court on August 28, 2018. By this order, the HC refused to entertain petitions seeking outside food inside theatres on the ground that a cinema hall is a private property. No decision was passed in the matters pending before the Delhi and Bombay high courts. In light of their order passed on Tuesday, the top court dismissed all the petitions.