The Supreme Court, during the hearing on Centre’s vaccine policy on Monday, referred to the visuals aired by TV channels of dead bodies being dumped into a river in Uttar Pradesh as it sarcastically asked if any sedition cases had been filed against the channels.
A bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, L. Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat noted: “Yesterday, we saw pictures of a dead body being thrown into the river.”
Justice Chandrachud added: “Yes, there was a picture of body being thrown into river.” In a sarcastic remark, he added that: “I do not know whether complaint of sedition been filed against the news channel for showing it.”
The bench made this remark when amicus curiae in the matter, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora submitted that guidelines had to be formulated for the dignified handling of bodies of those who have succumbed to Covid. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, pointed out that there is a separate suo moto case taken by the top court which heard issues connected with the proper treatment of the Covid-19 patients and dignified handling of the bodies in the hospitals.
The remarks were made before the hearing of two Telugu news channels – TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyoti – who moved the top court seeking quashing of FIRs registered against them by Andhra Pradesh Police. The same bench taking a strong view on attempts to muzzle the fourth estate, called for defining “the limits of sedition”, as it put on hold coercive action against two news channels.
The bench said that the AP government’s action of filing sedition cases against the channels is muffling channels. “It’s time we define the limits of sedition,” it said and expressed prima facie that FIRs are an attempt to muzzle media freedom.
However, Justice Chandrachud clarified that his remarks on sedition, made during Covid case hearing, were in connection with this matter involving the two news channels.
The channels moved the top court seeking quashing of the FIRs and also contempt petitions contending that Andhra Police action violated the court’s April 30 order, which emphasised on restraining prosecution against citizens, who ventilate grievances in connection with Covid issues.
The bench noted there was a need to define the scope of offences under Section 124A (sedition) and 153A (promotion of communal hatred) under the IPC, especially in the context of media freedom.