Hearing a batch of three petitions challenging a state government order allowing 100 per cent occupancy in theatres and multiplexes, the Madras High Court Friday asked the government to not permit more than 50 per cent occupancy until January 11.
The government order allowing 100 per cent occupancy was passed ahead of the release of Tamil star Vijay’s latest movie, Master, scheduled to release on January 13. Earlier, the actor had also requested the government to increase the occupancy from 50 per to 100 per cent for a better business and recovery of money.
A division bench comprising Justices M M Sundresh and S Ananthi observed that petitions had raised the issue of the government order violating the Disaster Management Act and guidelines issued by the central government. The court also noted that the Centre had clearly stated that there could not be any breach of the 50 per cent occupancy rule, considering the pandemic situation.
“We are dealing with a pandemic situation which does not bother about economic factors and territories such as district, state or country,” the court said.
The court also said that “we hope and trust that the state government to reconsider the issue in the right perspective”, and asked to not allow more than 50 per cent occupancy till January 11, when the government’s counsel informed that the state government was considering the matter and sought time to reply.
Quoting suggestions from petitioners, judges also asked the state government to consider ideas such as increasing the number of shows instead of occupancy. However, the court also added saying that there should be sufficient gap between shows to properly sanitise the hall. The case was adjourned to January 11 for further hearing.
The decision by the Tamil Nadu government was also subject to criticism from Centre and public health experts. The release of Vijay-starrer Master is considered to be one of the first and biggest India movie to be released after the pandemic started. The movie’s release plan–simultaneously at about 1,000 theatres–was expected to revive the entire film industry in the state.
Earlier, S Thanu, president of the Film Federation of India, had raised the concern of the industry in a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. He had said that nearly 500 movies were ready for release across India and that the 50 per cent occupancy rule in cinemas by Centre was not “feasible and economically viable” for recovery (of money). His letter to Shah also noted that airlines, buses and trains were allowed at 100 per cent occupancy and argued that the atmosphere in theatres is “more safe, sheltered and secure in comparison to the transport sector”.