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National Anthem Behind Closed Doors: Has SC Forgotten Its Ruling on Uphaar Cinema Tragedy?

59 people were killed in the 1997 fire.

01/12/2016 9:45 AM IST | Updated 01/12/2016 2:16 PM IST
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Relatives of the victims who died in a fire at Uphaar cinema hall on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the tragedy. (Photo by K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court has made it mandatory to play the national anthem before every screening in cinemas across India. While it is being played or sung in the halls or on the screen, the court has ordered all doors to remain shut so that no one can create any disturbance or behave in a way that amounts to disrespect to the national anthem. Only after the entire performance is over will the doors be opened again.

Among the several injunctions from the court regarding the national anthem, the one pertaining to closed-door performances is perhaps the most troubling and fraught with potential danger.

The directive has naturally reminded people of the shocking fire at New Delhi's Uphaar Cinema that killed 59 people and wounded over a hundred in 1997. During a screening of the movie Border, a fire broke out at this south Delhi movie theatre where one of the two exits had been bolted shut to accommodate additional seats. As a result, several died of asphyxia, failing to leave the theatre in the rush.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court had issued safety guidelines to cinema-owners in Delhi, including a strict order not to bar doors at any time while a show is on. "Under no circumstances, the entry door (which can act as an emergency exit in the event of fire or other emergency) should be bolted from outside," read the verdict of the court.

The apex court's instruction also squares with Rule 10(8) of Delhi Cinematograph Rules, which states "all exit doors and doors through which the public have to pass on the way to the open air shall be available for exit during the whole time that the public are in the building and during such time shall not be locked or bolted".

While the Supreme Court has given 10 days' time to cinema owners to implement its new rules regarding the national anthem, it hasn't specified its views on the way these may affect safety norms, especially in the event of a fire, at cinema halls.

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