One of the most visited movie theatres in Hyderabad, Telangana is operating by compromising on major safety aspects of seating arrangement. The lack of prescribed rows and columns of seats in this theatre are appalling and in open opposition to the law.
The Andhra Pradesh Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1955 clearly states:
- There shall be a passage of 0.90 metres in width for every 10 rows of seating accommodation.
- The gangways shall be not less than 0.90 metres in width and shall be so arranged that no seat shall be more than 10 seats from a gangway.
The theatre auditorium, however, has no passage for its 14 rows and no gangway amongst the 47 columns of seats.
The theatre in question is Prasads Large Screen (630+ Seats). The violation was discovered by anti-corruption activist Vijay Gopal. The theatre provided no passage for every ten rows and no gangway for every ten seats – which the law mandates. Mr Gopal raised the issue with the theatre owners and the police. It has been a year now and he is still confronted by police inaction. Frustrated, he has also approached the state Human Rights Commission with the matter (explained below).
The rules were made by the government with the safety of the moviegoers in mind. Lives have been lost in the past because theatres did not comply with the safety regulations and left little or no space between rows and gangways. This meant that in case a fire broke out many people could not escape quickly, thereby being burnt to death or suffocating to the toxic fumes within the cinema hall, frantically scurrying for the door, which is accessible to only one section of the hall and not to the other section that is wedged against the walls.
The Logical Indian called Prasads Large Screen, Hyderabad for comment. We called Kishan, Venkat (the Manager), the common line and the General Manager. None of them was willing to comment and the General Manager simply hung up.
It is highly likely that Prasads Large Screen, Hyderabad might not be the only theatre in the country to be in open violation of the rules. Any other instance of a theatre compromising on the public’s safety should be exposed by the citizenry and acted upon by authorities rapidly before there are any casualties.
What does the law say?
The Andhra Pradesh Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1955 is enforced in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are not the only states with such rules. Nearly all states enforce such regulations for the sake of safety in theatres. Some of these laws include The Haryana Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1952, The Meghalaya Cinema (Regulation) Rules, 1985, The Rajasthan Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1952, The Madhya Pradesh Cinemas (Regulation), The Kerala Cinemas (Regulation) Rules, 1988. Other states that have such laws include Karnataka, Maharashtra, Pondicherry, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Nagaland and West Bengal.
For the knowledge of readers, the laws, in general, have the below-mentioned themes.
- The number prescribed for each part of the auditorium shall be clearly indicated in such part by means of a board or otherwise.
- Chairs shall be battened together in complete lengths.
- There shall be an intervening space of at least 0.35 metres between the back of one seat and the front of the seat immediately behind, measured between perpendiculars.
- The distance between the screen and the first row of seats shall not be less than the width of the screen itself.
- The seating capacity of any theatre is calculated at the rate of 25 persons per 9 square meters of floor area after excluding the area of entrances, passages, gangways, stage, stair cases and all places to which the public are not admitted.
- The movie goers should be provided with lifts/escalators for exit at the end of the shows on par with such facility provided at the time of entering the theatre.(Only Multiplexes)
- A short documentary should be screened during every show by showing the exits, emergency escape routes and instructions as to what to do and what not to do in the case of fire or other hazards (As per directions of Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Uphaar Tragedy case).
- The emergency department telephone nos. of nearest Hospitals, Police Station and Fire Department should be displayed in every show. (As per directions of Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Uphaar Tragedy case).
Unresponsiveness of authorities
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Vijay Gopal explained how he took up the case with the authorities.
“I sent an email to the Theatre Management but no one replied to me. A complaint was duly filed with the Commissioner of Police in person by me on October 15, 2016 about the same as CP is the officer who gives NOC to theatres in metro cities. He has been sitting on this complaint ever since. The complaint made Negligence by Theatre Management endangering lives of citizens under Section 336 of the IPC is a cognisable offense for which an FIR should have been filed and an immediate action/investigation should have been ordered. Let alone doing so, till date who such act has been initiated. I waited for two weeks for the police to act. Because this never transpired, I approached the State Human Rights Commission on the 28th of the same month and filed a complaint against the CP for dereliction of duty under Section 166 of IPC and requested the HRD to intervene in the matter.”
The case was taken up and the DGP State was directed to submit an enquiry report by December 29, 2016 (case #9083/2016).
The CP’s representative came for the hearing on the date and asked for an extension as they could not submit the status of their enquiry. The next date of hearing is slated for September 11 this year. The previous hearing was on July 3. “They never appeared in court.”
The case has continued to drag on and the theatre authorities have not been penalised.
“Hyderabad Police,” Mr Gopal said, “continues with their lip service of them being people friendly etc. And the reality on the ground remains as it has been for decades. Who will take the responsibility if any untoward incident happens inside the auditorium? No one. Almost 2000+ lives are at risk daily at this theatre. I hope you would write about this as people need to be aware of this issue and know that the theatre they are visiting has zero regards for safety of the patrons and they are risk as well. The second hearing was on 24 Jan and the third on 24 February. I am still waiting for the authorities to take action.”
The Logical Indian take – Lessons from Uphaar
This is not the first time that Vijay Gopal has taken it upon himself to ensure that the law is upheld. Only earlier this year, he filed a case against INOX Movies’ unfair trade practices and hotels that overcharged on basic commodities and won both cases. He also saw to it that restaurants that overcharge customers, schools that charged excess fees and eateries where service charge was illegally charged were fined for their excesses.
We all know the Delhi Uphaar Theatre tragedy in which 59 people were charred to death as they could not run out of the theatre in time due to the extra seats that were put up by the management in the passage and gangway which led to a stampede and caused the disaster. Are we going to allow another Uphaar to occur before we take public safety seriously?
The Logical Indian community thanks Mr Gopal for his hard work and dutifulness in bringing this injustice to light and seeing to it that those responsible for cheating the public are made to face the law. We hope the authorities in the police department and the Human Rights Commission take notice and ensure that those guilty of the unsafe seating arrangement in the Hyderabad theatre are penalised to compromising on public safety. We also hope more people take it upon themselves to hold theatre owners accountable if they flout safety regulations.