The Supreme Court said that panic mongers could be punished under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed satisfaction with the steps taken by the Union and state governments to prevent spread of Covid-19 "at this stage" but expressed serious concern over fake news in social, electronic and print media causing the mass exodus of migrant workers from cities to their villages.

A bench of CJI S A Bobde and Justice L Nageswar Rao said, "Upon perusal of the status report filed on behalf of Union of India, we are satisfied with the steps taken by the Union of India for preventing the spread of coronavirus at this stage."

Noting that the mass migration had stopped with the intervention of the Centre and states and workers were being given food and shelter wherever they have been asked to stay, the bench said, "Migration of large number of labourers working in cities was triggered by panic created by fake news that the lockdown would continue for more than three months. Such panic driven migration has caused untold suffering to those who believed and acted on such news. In fact, some have lost their lives in the process. It is, therefore, not possible for us to overlook this menace of fake news either by electronic, print or social media.”

The SC's order underlined Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which provides up to one year imprisonment with fine as punishment to a person who makes or circulates a false alarm or warning concerning a disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic. It also said such panic mongers could be punished under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code.

The court made it mandatory for states to follow the Centre's advisory in tackling Covid-19. "We trust and expect that all concerned — state governments, public authorities and citizens of this country — will faithfully comply with the directives, advisories and orders issued by the Union of India in letter and spirit in the interest of public safety," the court said.

The bench said it was well known that panic could severely affect mental health. "We are informed that the Union of India is conscious of the importance of mental health and the need to calm down those who are in a state of panic. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta informs that within 24 hours, the central government will ensure that trained counsellors and/or community group leaders belonging to all faiths will visit relief camps/shelter homes and deal with any consternation that the migrants might be going through. This shall be done in all the relief camps/shelter homes wherever they are located in the country," the bench said.

"Anxiety and fear of the migrants should be understood by the police and other authorities. As directed by the Union of India, they should deal with the migrants in a humane manner. Considering the situation, we are of the opinion that the state governments/Union Territories should endeavour to engage volunteers along with the police to supervise the welfare activities of the migrants. We expect those concerned to appreciate the trepidation of the poor men, women and children and treat them with kindness," the bench said.

The court posted the hearing of PILs filed by Lakh Alok Srivastav and Rashmi Bansal on condition of migrant workers for further hearing on April 7.

Courtesy: The Times of India

The Times of India