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Forcing spectators to change their attire: A case for damages and unconstitutionality

Aniruddha K.*




Introduction


The second Test of the 2021 India-England series was the first in India to be opened to the public since the pandemic began. This rather historic match had some shine taken off it when spectators who happened to be wearing black clothes were denied entry into the Chepauk stadium by Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (“TNCA”) security personnel. This was not the first time that fans in Chepauk found themselves being threatened with non-admission if they did not change their clothes. In 2017, the Chennai police decided to impose a ban on black clothing inside the stadium after receiving intelligence that several of them were going to wear black as a mark of protest over the mandatory imposition of an all-India exam for medical admissions (Express News Service). A year later, another ban was imposed (DNA Web Team), this time as a response to calls for wearing black to protest the Cauvery river dispute. While these past bans were different from 2021 one inasmuch as TNCA and not the police imposed the latter, there is one commonality across all of them: the entry conditions specified in the match tickets did not stipulate that black clothing was prohibited. This piece argues that denying a spectator entry into its stadium based on a condition not stipulated in the ticket opens TNCA to a suit for damages under Section 73 of the Indian Contracts Act, 1872 (“the Act”), and that any ban - stipulated or unstipulated - on clothing is a violation of a spectator’s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution (“the Constitution”).


An Argument For Damages


To avail damages under Section 73 of the Act, two conditions need to be satisfied:


i) There had to have been a breach of contract, and

ii) The loss suffered by a claimant as a result of the breach should either have arisen naturally or been one that both parties knew would be the likely result of a breach


As per a combined reading of Section 2(h) and Section 10 of the Act, the match ticket that TNCA had issued was a contract, the terms of which were listed on its face. According to these terms, if ticket holders produced tickets at the stadium’s entry and abided by the conditions prescribed therein, they would be entitled to access ‘the area of the [s]tadium in which the relevant seat is located. All the items that ticket holders were prohibited from bringing into the stadium were listed in the ticket, and neither the ticket nor TNCA’s own entry conditions banned spectators from wearing black clothing. If some spectators were refused admission into the stadium on this ground, TNCA would be reneging its promise in the contract. Further, the losses suffered by these spectators (the price of the tickets they had purchased) would not have been remote or indirect; [1] rather, both parties may reasonably be supposed to have contemplated this being the outcome if the contract was breached. It follows that TNCA would be open to a suit for damages under Section 73 if it had denied a spectator entry into the stadium.


Even if it is argued that the conditions on the ticket did not amount to terms of a contract, which is an argument unlikely to hold sway (Sridevan), the third paragraph of Section 73 would come into play. According to this, one party is liable to compensate another on a failure to discharge obligations ‘resembling those created by contract’. In this case, TNCA’s obligation was to grant ticket holders access to their seats in the stadium, and the holders had the obligations of paying the price of the ticket and adhering to the conditions prescribed in it. These obligations are analogous to those created by contract, and the failure on TNCA’s part to discharge its obligations, therefore, would invite the applicability of damages.


An Argument For Unconstitutionality


Regardless of the debate on the horizontal applicability of Article 19 of the Constitution (Bhatia), the Indian Supreme Court has held that States are obligated to regulate private bodies in a way that ensures that the rights of Indian citizens under the Article are not violated.[2] Thus, even if TNCA is not a “State” as under Article 12 of the Constitution, [3] the Indian - or Tamil Nadu - government is bound to ensure that TNCA does not violate the fundamental right of citizens to freedom of speech and expression. Moreover, the Court has also observed that since the Board of Control for Cricket in India (to which TNCA is affiliated) performs public functions, an aggrieved citizen whose constitutional rights are violated by the Board can seek redress under Article 226 of the Constitution.[4] As TNCA too performs analogous public functions (albeit on a much smaller scale), an argument can be put forth that if it violates the Article 19(1)(a) rights of an Indian citizen, it can be made amenable to the writ jurisdiction of a High Court (Banerji).


Seeing as the freedom of speech and expression includes the right to express one’s opinion through visible representation,[5] the wearing of black attire as a sign of protest will fall squarely under Article 19(1)(a). The only situation in which TNCA can prevent spectators from wearing black clothes, therefore, will be if the legislature uses the exception of state security provided in Article 19(2) and passes a law to that effect - though it is unlikely that such a law will pass the ‘reasonable restrictions’ threshold in the Article (Raza). Therefore, the ‘unofficial’ ban on black clothing imposed by TNCA is a violation of a spectator’s right to freedom of speech and expression.


Conclusion


Despite the well-documented problems of access to justice in Indian courts(Daksh 1-20) - which ironically acts as a metaphoric safety valve for administrative bodies -TNCA would be well-advised to stop placing - and enforcing - an unofficial embargo on black clothing. By continuing this practice, the Association runs the risk of an exasperated spectator suing it for damages in the event that he/she/they are denied entry into the stadium. And since the Explanation to Section 73 of the Act provides that ‘the means which existed of remedying the inconvenience caused by the non-performance of the contract’ will be taken into account while assessing the quantum of damages, it can rest assured that any claim for compensation will not be limited to the price a spectator paid for the ticket. Putting aside the negative image that would be cast on TNCA if this situation were to unfold, the Association, for now, has a bigger problem to worry about: being a violator of someone’s Article 19(1)(a) rights.



*The author is a law scholar from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.


(The image used here is for representational purposes only)



References


1. Which would have precluded them from seeking damages. See Hadley v. Baxendale, (1854) 9 Ex 341; Victoria Laundry (Windsor) Ltd v. Newman Industries Ltd, [1949] 2 KB 528; PannalalJankidas v. Mohanlal, AIR 1951 SC 144; Murlidhar Chiranjilal v. Dwarkadas, [1962] 1 SCR 653; C Czarnikow Ltd v. Koufos, [1967] UKHL 4; Transfield Shipping Inc v. Mercator Shipping Inc, [2008] UKHL 48.

2. Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, (1997) 6 SCC 241; Medha Kotwal Lele v. Union of India, 2013 (1) SCC(Cr) 473. For more on this, see Bhatia, Gautam. “Horizontality Under the Indian Constitution: A Schema”. Indian Constitutional Law And Philosophy, 2015, https://indconlawphil.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/horizontality-under-the-indian-constitution-a-schema/. Accessed 13 Mar 2021.

3. Zee Telefilms v. Union of India, (2005) 4 SCC 649. Here, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that the Board of Control for Cricket in India was not a “State” for the purposes of Article 12. By extension, then, it can be argued that associations such as TNCA, too, are not state bodies. For more on this, see Bhatia, Gautam. “What is the State – V: Zee Telefilms, the Death of the Functional Approach, and an Alternative”. Indian Constitutional Law And Philosophy, 2014, https://indconlawphil.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/what-is-the-state-v-zee-telefilms-the-death-of-the-functional-approach-and-an-alternative/. Accessed 13 Mar 2021.

4. Zee Telefilms v. Union of India, (2005) 4 SCC 649, at para 31; Board of Control for Cricket in India v. Cricket Association of Bihar, (2015) 3 SCC 251, at para 29. One of the first proponents of the contention that the Board performs public functions was Justice Mukul Mudgal- see Ajay Jadeja v. Union of India [MANU/DE/1169/2001], at para 29.

5. Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124.


Bibliography


1. Bhatia, Gautam. “Round-Up: The Delhi High Court’s Experiments with the Constitution”. Indian Constitutional Law And Philosophy, 2018, https://indconlawphil.wordpress.com/category/horizontal-rights/#:~:text=This%20is%2C%20of%20course%2C%20impeccable,as%20injunctions%20against%20the%20State. Accessed 13 Mar 2021.

2. Daksh. Access To Justice Survey 2015-16. Centre For Development, Planning And Research, Bangalore, 2017, pp.1-20, https://dakshindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Daksh-access-to-justice-survey.pdf. Accessed 13 Mar 2021.

3. News Service, Express. “India-Australia ODI: Cricket Lovers Wearing Black Not Allowed to Enter Chepauk Stadium Fearing NEET Protest”. The New Indian Express, 2017, https://www.newindianexpress.com/sport/cricket/2017/sep/18/india-australia-odi-cricket-lovers-wearing-black-not-allowed-to-enter-chepauk-stadium-fearing-neet-1658773--1.html. Accessed 13 Mar 2021.

4. Raza, Aqa. “‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’ as a Fundamental Right in India and the Test of Constitutional Regulations: The Constitutional Perspective”. Indian Bar Review, XLIII, no. 2, 2016, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2827985. Accessed 13 Mar 2021.

5. Sridevan, Srinath. “Cricket and the Validity of Standard Form Contracts”. Ebc-India, 2006, https://www.ebc-india.com/lawyer/articles/2006_4_15.htm. Accessed 13 Mar 2021.

6. Web Team, DNA. “After Rajinikanth’s Call to Boycott IPL, Chennai Police Asks BCCI To Ban Black Shirts in Stadium”. DNA India, 2018, https://www.dnaindia.com/cricket/report-after-rajiniknath-s-call-to-boycott-ipl-chennai-police-asks-bcci-to-ban-black-shirts-in-stadium-2602670. Accessed 13 Mar 2021.