New Delhi: A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde Tuesday directed the media to refer to and publish the official version of developments concerning the Covid-19 outbreak, after the central government urged it to “prevent fake and inaccurate reporting”, which might cause “panic in the society”.
The two-judge bench comprising of the CJI and Justice L. Nageswara Rao was hearing a plea filed by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, seeking directions to provide better facilities for migrants workers, who were left walking hundreds of kilometres towards their villages from urban centres soon after PM Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The Centre Tuesday told the court that exodus of migrant labourers across the country had only begun after “fake and misleading news and social media”. The government also sought a direction from the Supreme Court that no media outlet should print, publish or telecast anything on Covid-19 without first ascertaining facts from the mechanism provided by the government.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, submitting the status report by the Ministry of Home Affairs through video conferencing, urged the top court to take measures in order to prevent fake news in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
The status report filed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said that “in an unprecedented situation of this nature, any deliberate or unintended fake or inaccurate reporting either in electronic, print, social media or web portals has a serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in large sections of the society”.
“Considering the very nature of the infectious disease which the world is struggling to deal with, any panic reaction by any section of the society based upon such reporting would not only be harmful for such situation but would harm the entire nation,” the report said.
However, the Supreme Court noted that it did not want to “interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic”, but directed the media to refer to and publish the official version about the developments.
The court said it expected 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”.
It has also directed the government to issue a daily bulletin through all media avenues, including social media and forums, to clear doubts of the people within a period of 24 hours.
Court’s directions on migrants
The direction from the Supreme Court follows the Monday hearing when court said that panic and fear was more dangerous than the coronavirus.
“Panic can 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,” it said in its Tuesday order.
SG Mehta also apprised the court that as of Tuesday 11 am, there were “no migrants walking on the roads”.
The court has now directed that proper food and shelter facilities be provided for migrants, including water. It also stated that such shelters be manned by volunteers and not police, as there should be no element of “intimidation”.
During the hearing, the central government also informed the court that testing capacity for Covid-19 has been increased on a “war footing” — about 118 labs are operational at present, with an ability to conduct 15,000 tests per day.
The central government said it has coordinated with 47 private laboratory chains with more than 20,000 collection centres, and that the Union Home Minister is personally supervising the situation.
“Home Minister is personally supervising the implementation of various directives/ advisories issued by the home ministry along with the cabinet secretary and the home secretary and senior officers in the control room which is operational for 24 hours,” the Centre’s affidavit stated.
The top court noted that it was satisfied with the work done by the government in order to prevent the outbreak.