The Madras High Court recently observed that cinema halls must provide free, potable, and pure drinking water to moviegoers if they are not permitted to bring water bottles into the theatres.
For security reasons, Justice SM Subramaniam acknowledged that cinema owners may prohibit cinemagoers from bringing drinking water from outside into the cinema hall. The judge observed that undesirable elements may transport alcohol or even water mixed with acid. It was also stated that there have been reports of "bottle bomb devices" exploding in theatres.
However, if water from outside is prohibited, the Court ordered that the cinema provide free drinking water through water coolers installed inside the Cinema Halls.
The order stated, "A Cinema Hall, which seeks to prohibit carrying of drinking water inside the Cinema Hall for security reasons, must necessarily provide free potable and pure drinking water through water coolers installed inside the Cinema Halls, before such a prohibition can be enforced ... Mere availability of the drinking water would not be sufficient to enforce prohibition of carrying drinking water inside the Cinema Halls. Purified drinking water with prescribed standards must be provided, so as to satisfy the requirements ... it is to be ensured that drinking water facilities are provided all the times to the cinema goers in the Hall.”
Water purifiers must be installed within water coolers to ensure that the water available to moviegoers is free of impurities, and a sufficient number of disposable glasses must be made available near the coolers, according to the Court.
It was stated that the water purifiers must remain fully functional and be serviced on a regular basis. If this is not done, the owner of the cinema hall will be obligated to pay compensation for the deficiency in providing services to moviegoers, it was added.
The Judge added that drinking water must be available before the movie begins and throughout the screening, including during the intermission.
The court further added, “If for any reason, water supply is not available on a particular day, alternative arrangements for supply of free pure and potable drinking water for the cinema goers needs to be made available by the owners of the Cinema Hall."
The judge has also ordered that periodic inspections be conducted to ensure that drinking water facilities, toilets, and other amenities at Tamil Nadu's movie theatres are properly maintained.
The court stated, "The department officials are duty bound to conduct periodical and surprise inspections in all the Cinema theatres across the State of Tamil Nadu."
The Court was hearing a petition filed in 2016 by one G Devarajan, who had filed a complaint after being charged more than the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) in the outside market for water and juice at a food stall in S2 cinemas in Tamil Nadu.
Prior to 2017, dual MRP fixation was permitted, according to the Court. However, the Court was informed that after the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) (Amendment) Rules, 2017 went into effect in January 2018, no such sale at dual prices is permitted or carried out.
The Court did, however, take note of the petitioner's complaint that no action was taken on his complaint and that there were other issues such as no water facilities in theatres or unsanitary water facilities in place.
The petitioner claimed that moviegoers are forced to buy water bottles and other packaged food at exorbitant prices. The judge went on to say that there are many such complaints in the public domain and that the action taken for such behaviour appears insufficient.
The court stated, "For such purchase of drinking water bottles, snacks etc., on the higher price, illegalities, if any, committed cannot be condoned merely on the ground of delay."
As a result, the Court issued the following directions:
- The petitioner was instructed to submit his complaint to the Joint Commissioner of the Department of Legal Metrology within two weeks of receiving a copy of the order. The authority was told to conduct an appropriate investigation and issue orders within three months.
- Within two months of receiving a copy of the order, the authorities should conduct inspections to ensure that purified drinking water facilities are adequately provided in cinemas. The authorities must also ensure that adequate clean and sanitary restrooms or toilets are provided. It is necessary to ensure that all other statutory requirements are met.
- The Joint Commissioner, Department of Legal Metrology, has been directed to ensure that public complaints are investigated promptly and that appropriate action is taken.
G Devarajan, the petitioner, appeared as a party-in-person. The State authorities were represented by Government Advocate C Kathiravan. Senior Advocate Satish Parasaran appeared on behalf of Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd and S2 Cinemas, assisted by Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.
CASE: G Devarajan v. The Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu and ors.