SC notice for discriminating non-Kannada films

A bench of Justices S H Kapadia and Aftab Alam issued notices to the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and 14 state governments for granting tax rebates from 0 to 10 per cent for films in their own languages while charging taxes of 30 to 40 per cent for Bollywood and other language films.

In a petition, Hyderabad-based Aashirvad Films said:  "Karnataka, in August 2004, hastened the competition between States by issuing a formal order directing that no non-Kannada film shall release in its territory unless it has finished seven weeks’ run since its first release outside Karnataka - with a view to lower(ing) the marketability and attractiveness of non-Kannada films." The petition pointed out that even Andra Pradesh charges a lower tax rate of 10 per cent for Telugu films, while levying 24 per cent for other language films.

Rajan Sharma, proprietor of Aashirvad Films, said the state has flouted a 2007 Supreme Court directive to charge equal entertainment taxes for both Telugu and non-Telugu films.

According to the ruling, the state must charge 10 per cent for non-Telugu films as well, but the state government implemented a rule that would limit 10 per cent levy on film produced in the state irrespective of their language, while charging 24 per cent for those produced outside.

"The Executive Government of Andhra Pradesh chose to perpetuate the very error struck down by Aashirvad films. It must have realised that Telugu films are produced in the State of AP and nowhere else in the country," the petition said. "At least 14 of the 28 states of our country levy a lower rate of tax in respect of films produced in a favoured language of the State's choice. The favoured language is generally the official language or the dominant language spoken in the territory."

AP, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, TN, Assam, Sikkim, Manipur and Orissa were asked to file their replies for discriminating films on the basis of language, regarded  as unconstitutional and violation of fundamental rights.

The petition that the discrimination suffered by films expressed in the national language under the state entertainment tax regime has no match in any federation of the world, since the  motivation for the states to impose higher tax has been to discourage screening Hindi films.

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