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COVID-19 - Legal Viewpoint & Freedom Of Expression On Web Platforms

COVID-19 - Legal Viewpoint & Freedom Of Expression On Web Platforms

– Bindu Singh


The second surge of COVID-19 seems to be more devastating as public outcry indicates immense failure of governments’ machinery. This view gets firm with the latest directions given by the Supreme Court of India in which the apex court has warned the state governments against filing cases on those who are in quest of help on social media platforms due to shortage of oxygen, medicines, and non-availability of beds in hospitals.

Taking serious note of the prevailing situation of the country where India is going through a very tough rather confusing times to fight against the Coronavirus and the number of cases in a day has touched the figure of 4 lakhs positive cases, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud , LN Rao and SR Bhat has strongly pointed out to the police action on the distraught posts by individuals in this time of emergency where sometimes the life of humans are at risk due to deadly virus.

The apex court bench has clearly said that if the police administration or the state governments register any such cases, it would be considered contempt of court. The state governments must step up to make arrangements for mass vaccination drive to cover every citizen and that is also free of cost. The court firmly observed that a citizen should not be booked just for speaking out his grievances when he needs help in an emergency situation. There cannot be and should not be any clampdown on free speech.

Noted Senior Lawyer of Punjab and Haryana High Court Rajwinder Singh Bains applauded the directions of the Supreme Court Bench. He says that the role of constitutional courts that are High Courts and the Supreme Court is to safeguard the rights of the citizens. Furthermore, the High Courts have the power of protecting the legal and fundamental rights of the citizens as well. There are as many as 21 Highcourts all over the nation and definitely, those can provide fair justice to the public considering the geographical and current situation of the states. He believes that when the administration fails to control any such situation, mismanagement on the part of governments is visible and people are on the roads crying for help and it is a medical emergency at a mass level. It is not justified to register cases on individuals for the posts on social media and sharing such posts.

Bains further said it is clearly written in Supreme Court’s order that if an individual disobeys any instruction or order by any public servant under article 144 IPC then it cannot be considered as a crime in the same manner if a car driver over speeds a car is not a crime but has a process of challan and then there is the provision of imposition of fine which comes under violation of traffic rules. If a public servant gets some injury, his duty gets obstructed then it falls in the category of crime. He asserts the abuse of police power is too much in our country. The people have been misbehaved and mishandled by the cops on many occasions. Several such cases could be seen even in the lockdown period, he added. He said the police personnel is ignorant of the law and the qualification criterion of recruitments has not been upgraded.  He said it is important to hear public voices and grievances to further control the damage in these times of disaster and distress.

Bains said the judicial system should step ahead to disperse pending cases by extending working hours as most of the lawyers and judges have opted to work from home i.e virtual mode of court proceedings. The output of the working can be much more as a lawyer sitting here in Chandigarh can argue in the court at Mumbai, Delhi, or Bangalore which can help resolve cases giving relief to the victims. He said if the doctors, health workers, police, and army personnel are out on roads dispersing their duty then why not the judiciary extends its services by working more in this hour of need and urgency. If people are speaking out to unfold the corruption racket which has gone up to the next level vis-à-vis black marketing of medicines, vaccines, ambulance fair or the charges taken for procuring dead body by the family. It is another issue if the grievance is true or false but the public has the freedom of expression and to say or register their complaints and problems which they are facing in the times when the government is not properly functioning. It is pertinent to say that there is already a  narrative going on in sections of society that courts have been siding with the rulers on various occasions but these directions are appropriate in the interest of the public at large in the Corona period and give a sigh of relief to the people in the toughest times of the century.

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