Government Abolishes FCAT, Filmmakers Criticize The Move

by Shatakshi Gupta

The Government of India has revoked the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal overnight.  This has blocked a way for film producers to go into appeal against the censor board’s decision. The Central Government has issued the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, two days ago.

Through this, eight different tribunals have been repealed.  Which also includes the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal.  Now, any producer who has objected to the decision of the censor board will have to appeal directly to the High Court itself.  Film artists have called it a dark day for cinema. From Hansal Mehta to Vishal Bhardwaj, many have expressed anger by tweeting about it.

The function of the FCAT

 The Government of India formed the Film Certification Tribunal in 1983 under the Cinematograph Act. This tribunal could have appealed against the decision of the censor board. If the censor board ordered a cut or any correction and the filmmaker felt that the censor board’s order was not appropriate, they could file an appeal in the tribunal.

Qualification of the members of the tribunal

The government had decided that the retired High Court judge would be the chairman of this tribunal. Besides, the Central Government will appoint four more members to the Tribunal.  However, no qualification was set for who these four members could be. That is, the government could make anyone a member.

 In the Tribunal which was just repealed, retired Chief Justice Manmohan Sarin held the post of Chairman. The remaining four members in the tribunal in 2017 included Advocate Bina Gupta, journalist ShekharIyer, BJP leader ShaziaIlmi and film actress Poonam Dhillon. Later, the film Critic Saibal Chatterjee and Madhu Jain were included in the place of ShaziaIlmi and Poonam.

Many important judgements were given by FCAT

The tribunal has always given important decisions. Many films like Lipstick Under My Burka have been judged in a short period. This tribunal, after objecting to the censor board, gave a certificate by suggesting changes in it as per the demand of the censor board. It had the authority to give the certificate, but now it has been completely abolished.  The courts already have the pendency of many important casesand no one would want to get involved in a long and complicated legal matters.

The reaction by Poonam (a member of FCAT)

Poonam Dhillon, who became a member of this tribunal in the year 2017, said that this tribunal was a shared platform between the censor board and the film producer. The changes that the producers brought in were also seen many times, this saved everyone time, but now the producers have to go directly to the High Court. Already, overloaded with serious cases, the courts have no time to watch films.

She further added that no member of the tribunal was on salary. Just rupees two thousand watching for watching the film was not a huge amount for the tribunal members, but it was an important platform where the film disputes would be resolved quickly. The film goes to the censor board only when it is ready for release. In such a situation, if the films are stuck in the courts, then the loss of the producer can be understood.

Impact of the move on film producers

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People associated with the film industry say that it was easy to go to the tribunal against the decision of the censor board. In this, only a simple application had to be given. The producers could present themselves before the tribunal and put forth their views.  Now going to the High Court means that an appeal has to be made in a complex legal way.

Seeing the heavy pendency of cases in courts, this decision will result in a delay in the decision of the High Court regarding appeals from producers against the censor board. This will delay the re-shooting of some scenes of the film as ordered and also inthe release of the film.

No consultation was done with the stakeholders

There was no consultation with the people of the film industry before taking such a big decision that would have an impact on the film industry. Today, many people in the industry are considered in the government’s good book.  From time to time, theyparticipate in many government campaigns and also supports it.  But the government did not think it necessary to ask, seek or consult anything with them.

Decision comes through an ordinance

The government has released The Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021. Eight tribunals have been repealed through this ordinance. The judicial power of all these tribunals has been transferred. That is, the judicial right to hear the appeal till now was given to these tribunals, it has been given to the High Court or to the power board. In the case of film certification, this right has been given to the High Court.

The bill came in the Lok Sabha

Earlier, this bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in February this year by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. But this bill was not brought in the discussion for voting in the budget session.  Hence, the ordinance has now been issued.