The Andhra Pradesh High Court, on Wednesday, ruled that the state government has no authority to set the prices of cinema tickets. The government can only “convey its opinion” to the licensing authority, which must make the ultimate decision, the court further said.
Justice DVSS Somayajulu made the ruling on a petition filed by the Multiplex Association of India (MAI). The MAI’s petition challenged the state government’s order, according to which service charges for online ticket bookings would also be included in the capped admission rates into cinema halls.
According to the court order accessed by Silverscreen India, the manager of PVR Cinemas, Vijayawada represented the MAI. Their counsel contended that the inclusion of online booking service charges in the overall price of admission is ‘contrary to law’. “It is opposed to the provisions of the AP Cinemas Act, devoid of reasonable classification and amounts to reasonable restriction,” the counsel argued.
The petitioners further claimed that they were “never consulted or kept abreast” of the process of fixing the movie ticket rates, nor were they invited to discussions about the same or asked for any recommendations by the committee that was set up to decide the matter.
It is to be noted that movie ticket prices in Andhra Pradesh came under the regulation of the state when the Jagan Mohan-led government passed an order to that effect in April 2021. The government capped the ticket prices that could be levied based on the theatre type (multiple, AC, non-AC, etc) and also directed theatres to make a provision for online booking. This did not sit well with theatre owners and several petitions were filed against the order. Eventually, a committee was set up to work on the ticket price issue.
The MAI’s petition specifically deals with the service charges that are applied by multiplexes for the online booking of tickets. According to the government order, these charges are considered part of the overall ticket price and are subject to the capped rate. In other words, the total ticket price, including the service charge, must be equal to or under the government approved rates.
The MAI argued that the online ticket booking facilities provided by the theatres is a “service” offered to the audience, for them to mainly avoid standing in a queue or crowd. The petition noted that it is an “extra service” to the customer, just like parking at the premises and cannot be considered as part of the rate of admission.
The multiplex exhibitors also claimed that they were not an active part of the committee that was set up to decide the matter and they were not consulted before the new rates were fixed.
They further stated that there was no material available to show why/how the government decided to include online service charges in the rate of admission.
After hearing the MAI’s argument, the court, in its interim order, observed that such service charges, which are levied on a moviegoer for the purpose of online booking, cannot be included in the rate of admission. The rate of admission can only mean the actual ticket cost payable or that which is actually necessary for entry into the hall, the court ruled. It thus granted the petitioners permission to levy additional charges for online booking.
The court further stated that the power to fix admission rates is vested in the licensing authority and not the government. It said that the government can “at best convey its opinion” to the licensing authority but the “ultimate decision” must be that of the latter only.
The case has been adjourned to June 15 and time has been granted until then for the filing of counter arguments.