SC Warn States Against Restricting Information

Synopsis: The Supreme Court has warned the police and the government against harassing the people who need help.

Background  

The Supreme Court has issued a timely warning to the States. It is against any attempt to restrict the spreading of information about the health crisis or call for help. 

  • The court issued this warning in response to the direction issued by the UP Government. Directions stated anyone spreading misinformation or rumour would be held under the National Security Act (NSA). Also, their property will be seized. 
  • Amethi police registered an FIR against a man who asked for an oxygen cylinder on Twitter for a family member. Accusations were of circulating a rumour and seeking to cause fear and alarm.
  • It is appropriate for the government to direct the police to crack down on the racketeering of medicines in the black market. 
    • However, it is a different matter if the administration starts seeing all pleas for help as actions aimed at ruining the government’s image.
What is the significance of the Supreme Court’s warning?

The court said that the calls for help through social media from citizens affected by COVID-19 are not supposed to be banned.

  • Firstly, the Court’s warning that any attempt to suppress the people’s voices would attract action for contempt of court is timely and necessary. Because leaders are treating the grievances by citizens as a personal insult to their administrative capabilities.
  • Secondly, the head of the bench, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that any restriction on information is conflicting with basic principles. He highlighted the importance and need for the free flow of information during a serious crisis by remembering the role it played in controlling a famine in 1970.
  • Thirdly, the Court was taking inspiration from the theory, enunciated by economist Amartya Sen. The theory spoke of the fundamental features of democracy that could help prevent famines. Such as:
    • A free press and the need to face the people at elections and response to political criticism.
  • Fourthly, this will help prevent misguided action by the police and the administration to treat appeals concerning the shortage of hospital beds, medical oxygen, and vital drugs
Conclusion 
  • The High Courts of India questioned the government as well. Any move to suppress such criticism or managing opinions will be of no use if the infections and body count keep rising.
  • Government must acknowledge its accountability. And focus on strengthening the health infrastructure, instead of wasting energy and precious time on managing people’s opinions.

Source: The Hindu

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