New Delhi, July 11: India's censor board reclassified 172 adult-rated movies as general category films over the past three years without following its own rules, a Right to Information query has revealed.
Pune-based social activist Vihar Durve filed the query, which has also led to the revelation that the Central Board of Film Certification approved nearly 100 films within a week of receiving the applications.
The comptroller and auditor general (CAG) has in its report hinted that these films may have been allowed to jump the queue, alleging that their speedy clearance suggests "favouritism" towards select producers.
Durve had sent the query to - and received the reply from - the CAG, which had just prepared its audit report on the censor board.
The reply said that 172 films labelled "A" had been re-certified between October 2012 and March 2015 as "U/A" without following set procedure.
Further, another 166 films initially classified "U/A" -which means under-12 viewers must be accompanied by adult guardians - had been reclassified as "U" for unrestricted viewing.
Under rules, any application from a filmmaker unhappy with an "A" or "U/A" certificate and seeking a milder certificate has to be forwarded to the board's revising committees for a re-look at the movie.
In most cases, the revising committees seek deletions of certain visual or audio sequences to issue milder certificates. But these 338 films (172 plus 166) were not sent to the revising committees.
"It's shocking that the censor board is ignoring its own rules to please filmmakers," Durve told The Telegraph over the phone from Pune. "I had sought the RTI (reply) without any specific alert but the report has exposed everything that is wrong (with the censor board).
Durve, who had filed the query about the censor board, added: "I hope the Union government takes note and intervenes to stop the corrupt practices."
The audit found that 99 films had been cleared within seven days --- far short of the official 68-day deadline --- whereas at least 10 films were cleared only after 104 to 360 days. Of the 99, some 55 were approved within three days. These include Bollywood flicks such as Madras Café, Fukrey, Ek Villain and Singham Returns.
Email queries sent by this newspaper to the producers of these four films remained unanswered.
While quick clearances are not against the rules, the CAG felt they indicated "non-following of due procedure" --- which ranges from scrutiny to committee formation to vetting of panel reports --- and "therefore the chances of bias or favouritism can't be ruled out towards others in the queue".
The report cites irregularities of Rs 6.6 lakh in travel allowance reimbursements relating to trips by board officials including chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani and CEO Shravan Kumar.
Kumar, who is in the Netherlands for a three-week official training programme, was not available for comments. Nihalani, appointed in January this year, said: "These things happened before I joined."
Dancer Leela Samson headed the board for most of the period under the scanner.
"I'm yet to get a copy of the audit report, so I can't comment," Nihalani said. "As for the travel reimbursement, I'll have to check with my office."
Officials in the information and broadcasting ministry, under which the censor board functions, played the audit report down saying it was only an "inspection" report.
The censor board has in recent months been embroiled in controversies.
Several board members have publicly accused Nihalani of a dictatorial style.
Previous CEO Rakesh Kumar was arrested last August after allegedly being caught accepting a bribe from a producer.