New Delhi, May 27: A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde Wednesday asked the Centre to make sure people do not instigate the public on issues that could lead to a law and order problem for enforcement agencies.
The court’s remarks came while it was hearing a batch of petitions, urging the top court to prevent communalisation of the Nizamuddin Markaz issue by certain sections of print and electronic media, The Print reported.
One of the petitioners, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, an advocacy body working for Muslims, had on 6 April moved the Supreme Court for directions to the government and media not to “demonise entire Muslim community over spread of COVID-19 due to Nizamuddin Markaz congregation of Tablighi Jamat”.
“Don’t let people instigate, these are things (that) later become a law and order problem,” the CJI remarked while hearing the petitions. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta was present during the hearing that took place through video conferencing.
The court gave two weeks time to the Centre and Press Council of India (PCI) to reply on the actions taken against media houses for violating the Cable Television Networks Act, 1995, if any.
The Nizamuddin Markaz has been at the center of a controversy after a congregation it held in March resulted in a sharp spike in coronavirus infections, making it the largest vector of the disease in South Asia.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for petitioners, argued the matter required court’s intervention. “This is a serious matter,” he said, urging the court to take action.
At this CJI Bobde said, “We take all matters seriously. Do not say repeatedly that take these matters seriously.” Dave then claimed that there was a lot of fake news on the Markaz issue, which was misleading and damaging the social fabric of the nation.
“It makes out an offence under the law. Why is the government silent?” he asked, once again urging the bench to take action. “This is a grave issue impacting minority rights,” Dave submitted, prompting CJI Bobde to reiterate, “Don’t repeat that again.” Later, it asked PCI and Centre to place their response.
On 13 April, the Supreme Court had refused to pass any orders to gag the media. While hearing the petitions it said, “We will not gag the press.”
The petitions claimed that by not taking action to maintain communal harmony “in such a critically sensitive time”, the Centre had failed in discharging its constitutional duty.
Various TV channels and newspapers were also blamed for presenting the information relating to the incident in a “twisted manner”, inciting hatred against the entire Muslim community at large.
Noting that television news channels and social media used phrases such as “Corona Jihad” and “Corona Terrorism” to describe the Nizamuddin Markaz incident, the petition sought a direction to the Centre to stop communalisation of the incident and take action against those disseminating fake news on the issue.