On 31 March 2020, the Supreme Court again heard the matter through video-conferencing. Along with the petition of Alakh Alok Srivastava, another writ petition – Writ Petition (Civil) No. 469 of 2020 – Rashmi Bansal and Anr. v. Union of India , with similar prayers, was also listed before the Court.
Central Government had filed its status report. This can be accessed from here, from the website fo the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
Supreme Court was informed by the Union of India that “the labourers who are unemployed due to lock down were apprehensive about their survival. Panic was created by some fake news that the lock down would last for more than three months.”
Court was further informed that “a direction was issued to the District Collectors/Magistrates to ensure that medical tests were done and the migrant labourers be provided with basic amenities like food, clean drinking water, medicines, etc. in the shelter homes.”
As per the Status Report, 6,66,291 persons had been provided shelters and
22,88,279 persons had been provided food.
The Solicitor General of India made a statement on instructions that at 11 am on 31 March 2020, “there was no person walking on the roads in an attempt to reach his/her home towns/villages.”
Solicitor General also requested for a direction was sought to prevent fake and inaccurate reporting whether intended or not, either by electronic print or social medial which will cause panic in the society.
After perusing the Status Report, Court observed that it was “satisfied with the steps taken by the Union of India for preventing the spread of Corona Virus [COVID 19] at this stage.”
Panic result of fake news
Supreme Court observed:
“The migration of large number of labourers working in the cities was triggered by panic created by fake news that the lock down 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.
Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides for punishment to a person who makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic. Such person shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine.“
Media to be responsible
Supreme Court further observed:
“In particular, we expect the Media (print, electronic or social) to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated. A daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people would be made active within a period of 24 hours as submitted by the Solicitor General of India. We do not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but direct the media refer to and publish the official version about the developments.”
Matter was adjourned to 07 April 2020.