Maharashtra Food and Civil Supplies Minister Ravindra Chavan on Friday assured the state legislature that "there is no ban on patrons carrying outside food to multiplexes but if the multiplex authorities prohibit it, they could face action".
The minister's statement came after a heated debate on the raging issue of the exorbitant rates charged by multiplexes for food, water and beverages which were higher than the printed maximum retail price (MRP).
Leader of Opposition in Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde raised the issue of differential pricing of the same product inside and outside multiplexes.
In recent weeks, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) carried out agitations and protests inside various multiplexes in Mumbai, Thane, Pune and other cities where a popcorn pack costing Rs 5 outside was sold for Rs 250 inside.
The agitations, occasionally violent, however seemed to have struck a cord and elicited huge public response even on social media platforms.
The Bombay High Court last month demanded to know why the Maharashtra government could not regulate the prices of the food and beverages sold inside multiplexes.
Hearing a petition filed last year by a social activist Jainendra Baxi, the court observed that in many instances, the foodstuffs were priced even higher than the entry ticket rates and ordered the state government to file its affidavit in the matter within four weeks.
Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India (COEA) President Nitin Datar said that they have not received any orders from the government.
"We will naturally comply if the government makes it mandatory. So far it is an announcement in the legislature and the entire issue is not clear till the formal orders are issued," Mr Datar told IANS.
While admitting there were discrepancies in the rates of foods and beverages, he also revealed that the differences were much higher compared between the privately-owned multiplexes and the multiplexes chain owned by the bigger companies.
"It is true that the prices vary, but these must be regulated everywhere, not just for the cinemas. This is a business meant to make profits, but if people cannot afford, they have the option of single-screen cinemas where the rates are much lower," Mr Datar pointed out.
However, he ruled out the possibility of foodstuff being directly sold to patrons in cinemas or multiplexes, as in some small towns in different parts of India, as hawking or selling anything inside the auditorium is prohibited under the Maharashtra Cinemas (Regulation) Rules, on safety and security grounds.