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Twitter censors tweets on govt’s handling of covid 19 situation

On 23rd April 2021 the Government of India sent a ‘Legal Request’ to Twitter to remove several tweets of people which spoke of the Covid-19 situations in the Nation. Though the exact contents of all the tweets are unavailable since they have been taken down, several of these tweets emphasised on the lack of control the government had on the pandemic situation and further spoke of the improper governance in such situations. There were approximately 50-52 tweets from many people such as opposition politicians, journalists and filmmakers etc. 

A legal request was made to twitter to remove these tweets by the Government, the order of the same is available on the Lumen Database. Twitter then evaluated these tweets with its own guidelines & policies along with the Indian Laws. The Government claimed that these tweets should be disallowed under the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2000. 

The reason provided by BJP national spokesperson Gopal Agarwal to BBC was that, “We cannot allow fake news that harms the country.”

While these tweets have not been taken down, Twitter responded by censoring these tweets only for the Indian Nation. The Legal request only mentions the law cited as ‘Information and Communication Technology Act, 2000’ and sections are unavailable. 

However one may take a look at S.69A of the said Act which deals with power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource in cases where questions of  interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence arise. 

In the age of Social Media, Twitter is one of the most prominent platforms where one can choose to voice their opinions as freedom to free speech and expression are fundamental rights granted to Indians by the Indian Constitution under Art.19. There are exceptions to this right but the question that lies before us is simple, Is the Govt. violating our freedom in censoring such tweets which are mere expressions of public discontent? 

Virar Fire Tragedy: What happened and who is responsible?

On 23rd April 2021 somewhere between 2.35- 3:13am fire broke out in the ICU unit of Vijay Vallabh Hospital in Virar in Mumbai. This fire was said to be caused due to a short-circuit in an Air-Conditioner in the ICU ward. During the event of this fire approximately 85- 90 people were present inside and this hospital is also a Covid-19 centre. This fire was reportedly put out by 5:30am. In response to the loss of life, Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of kin of the victims.

After the incident in the morning, Arnala Police registered an First Information Report (FIR) against the hospital staff, management and a doctor. After registering the FIR, the case was handed over to Crime Branch Unit II of Mira-Bhayander Vasai-Virar police jurisdiction. 

The charges applied under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 were as follows:

S.304: culpable homicide not amounting to murder

S.337: causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others

S.338: causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others

S.34:  Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention

In furtherance to this on 25th April 2021, Sunday at 1.52 am the Chief Executive Office, Dr Dilip Bastimal Shah and Chief Administrative Officer, Dr Shailesh Dharamdev Pathak of Vijay Vallabh Hospital were arrested. This arrest was made on the grounds that there was no Fire Audit done by the hospital and no NOC was obtained after March 2021 from the Fire Department. They were presented in Vasai Court and sent to Police Custody for one day. Further investigations are ongoing. 

Eradication of the wrong contentions for Dowry Death

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 was enacted with the intention to be the preventive measure against receiving as well as allotment of dowry. This Act envisaged removal of dowry from its roots. Section 3 of this Act clearly states the penalty regarding receiving as well offering of dowry in any formhowever, the hate crime and domestic violence cases against women due to dowry were still seeing a spike in numbers, therefore this Act was subjected to certain amendments.

Owing to increase in these cases a unique section has been inserted in the Indian Penal Code after Section 304-A i.e. Section 304 B, Dowry death which reads as follows: If a womanhas died within 7 years of her marriage due to injury and if it comes to the light that she had also undergone harassment by her husband or by any relative of her husband in issues related to dowry then it would be considered dowry death. The sub section also states that if someone commits dowry death that person would be subjected to imprisonment not less than 7 and in certain cases that can also extend to life imprisonment.

Section 498-A of Indian Penal Code strongly condemns the cruelty a woman is subjected to. When a married woman experiences or is subjected to cruelty from her husband or in laws, then this section will call for them to be punished, which includes imprisonment that can extend up to 3 years along withfine which can be imposed on them. We have to understand thegravity of the term “cruelty”. Cruelty can be seen as action which would make that woman to commit suicide or cause grave injury to her. Also, cruelty here would not be confined to just physical harm, if that woman is being forced to accept unlawful demand of any form of wealth that would be subjected under this section too.

In the present case the accused (husband and parents-in-law) used to harass and beat the daughter-in-law for dowery and owing to this, she committed suicide. Hence, the trial court found them guilty of the offence under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code. They were sentenced to imprisonment for 2 years and a fine of Rs 5,000 was imposed.

An appeal was filed in the Madras High Court by the accused challenging the trial court’s verdict along with a petition by the in-laws for suspension of their jail sentence.

The Madras High Court refused to terminate the jail sentence that was awarded to the elderly couple and rejected their contention that they were living separate from their son and daughter-in-law hence there being no possibility of harassment. Justice P Velmurugan, who headed the bench, held that a wrong message would be portrayed to the society, and due to this, many in-laws may escape from their liability of the offence committed. Justice Velmurugan also observed that the foremost responsibility of parents is that they should raise their children as responsible citizens first, only then good education will frame them to be ideal. The Court ultimately dismissed the plea of the accused to suspend their jail term.

Violation of Article 14 By Scheme of Married daughters

The thought process of the Compassionate appointment is to give placement or appointment on compassionate grounds to the dependant family member of a Government worker who is on a demise bed or retired because of clinical reasons, hence leaving his family in poverty and without any maintenance and means of livelihood. The motive for the scheme was to give prompt alleviation to the family of the expired Government worker, who may endure without such a consolation.

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states that” The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India” Equality before the law means that the state won’t make laws, rules, or regulations which will be discriminatory between two people. Article 14 is one of the most important fundamental right in Indian constitution and it is absolute.

In the case of State of MP & Ors. v. Jyoti Sharma

The Gwalior Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court has communicated its concurrence with the position taken by a Full Bench of the High Court in Indore, vis-à-vis deliberation of wedded daughter from compassionate appointment.

A Division Bench of Justices Sheel Nagu and Anand Pathak dismissed State’s allure against a Single Bench order that permitted the Petitioner’s challenge to dismissal of her case for compassionate appointment exclusively on the ground of her conjugal status.

The Petitioner turned out to be a wedded daughter of the expired Government worker, who passed away on the post of ASI (M). Dependency of a single bench happened to be on Meenakshi Dubey v. MP Poorva Kshetra Vidyut Vitran Co. Ltd to permit her solicitation for a Compassionate appointment.

In the aforesaid case, a Full Bench at Indore had said that the policy of the government prohibiting deliberation of a wedded women from the compassionate appointment is unjust and violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

It was observed by the bench of judges comprised of Sujoy Paul, JP Gupta, and Nandita Dubey that such an approach that deprives wedded women of the right of contemplation for compassionate appointment violates equality.

In the said case, the Full Bench alluded to different global law standards, arrangements and treaties that stop gender injustice. It additionally alluded to the view picked by the Supreme Court in Secretary, Ministry of Defense v. Babita Puniya and Ors.

In this case, the Division Bench saw that the Meenakshi Dubey case (supra) has not been attacked by the State in any higher gathering. In this manner, the Court wouldn’t meddle with the Single Bench order.

Private Vehicles not ‘Public Place’ decides the Supreme Court

Recently, in the case of Boota Singh v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court of India held that Private Vehicles even if parked on public roads do not fall within the ambit of S.43 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act).

In the said case, Police Officials were present at the canal bridge on Surtia-Rori road as they had received secret information to the effect that the accused are selling poppy straw (drug) in a vehicle (jeep). Accordingly, a raid was conducted on the jeep and the accused was found along with two bags kept in the said jeep. The search of the bags led to the recovery of poppy straw (drug). The case was brought to and decided by High Court of Punjab & Haryana at Chandigarh.

During the trial at the High Court, the accused’s council argued for acquittal on the bases of non-compliance of S.43 of the NDPS Act. S.43 of the NDPS Act states the Power of seizure and arrest in public place as per which both seizing of narcotic substances found in public places by the police/officer (as under S.42 of the NDPS Act) as well as detaining the persons liable for holding such substances is valid.

However, the High Court did not let this argument stand and convicted the accused Boota Singh, Gurdeep Singh and Gurmohinder Singh, under Section 15 of the NDPS Act and sentenced them to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 10 years with imposition of fine in the sum of Rs.1,00,000/-, in default whereof they were directed to undergo further rigorous imprisonment for a period of two years. The accused persons to oppose this order of the High Court approached the Supreme Court with an appeal.  

The Supreme Court stated that ‘The explanation to Section 43 shows that a private vehicle would not come within the expression “public place” as explained in Section 43 of the NDPS Act.’ Pertaining to this, the acquitted the accused persons and further states that the right section to bring this case under would have been S.42 of the NDPS Act which allows for power of entry, search, seizure and arrest without warrant or authorisation.

Maharashtra imposes new restrictions to curb the Covid-19 virus

Covid-19 Pandemic has indeed been tough for India, but its horrors can be seen in Maharashtra in one of the leading Indian States. Keeping in mind the fight against Covid-19, Maharashtra has imposed restrictions under S.144 of Criminal Procedure code state-wide. These restrictions have been implemented from 8p.m. of 14th May 2021 and will go on until 1st May 2021. This has been titled as ‘Break the Chain’ Initiative, meaning breaking the disease chain in the people.

S. 144 of the Cr.P.C. allows executive magistrate any state or territory to issue an order to prohibit the people to assemble at one place or organise any such event/programme where five or more people’s gatherings can be expected. This is being done to avoid crowding in places so as to stop the Covid-19 virus from spreading.

The rules and restrictions imposed find their authority in the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The complete restrictions in the State are as follows:

• From 7A.M to 8.P.M only essential category and exempted category will be allowed to move and function outside the homes;• Post 8P.M. there is the imposition of night curfew;• All other services and working to remain closed int the state;• Essential Category will include: Groceries, ATMs, Petrol Pumps, Medical Services etc;• For public transport, Auto rickshaws are only permitted 2 passengers along with one driver. For 4 wheeler taxis, driver and 50% passenger capacity is permitted. Buses will run at full seating occupancy, but no standing passengers will be permitted;• All persons are also to wear masks and sanitize hands at all times;• Roadside food stalls are allowed to remain open fortakeaways;• Restaurants and other food chains will be permitted for delivery;• Religions places are to remain closed;• E-commerce to continue functioning as normal and deliveries for the same are permitted.

Was there violation of Sec 295A of IPC by the Band of Musicians?

The genealogy of Section 295A of Indian penal Code can be traced to the British era, when a book ‘Rangila Rasul’ was published and was protested by the minority community of undivided India. They alleged that few passages in it are against the founder of their faith. This paved a way to protests and demands for enactment of a law against injury to religious feelings, which was obliged by the British Government by inserting Section 295A in IPC.

Section 295A of the IPC reads as whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

In the present matter (Sudheer Rikhari v. State of Goa) the facts are –

A band of musicians, ‘Dastaan Live’, were arrested by the Goa Police for hurting the religious sentiments of the complainant during their performance at the Serendipity Festival of Arts in Goa. An FIR was registered against themunder Section 295A of IPC, where the complainant alleged that the group had insulted Hindu religion by disrespectfully chanting the word “OM” along with the words like “Ullu ka Patta” in their song. On that basis, the petitioners were called at the Panaji Police Station asking them to issue an apology and also informed them about the FIR filed. Hence, they filed the present petition alleging the abuse of criminal process as the complaint did not clearly disclose any offence and requested the Court to quash the FIR filed against them.

While delivering the judgement the court held that the allegations in the complaint did not cover the ingredients of Section 295A of IPC and that the police were unjustified in calling the members for seeking an apology let alone arresting them. The Court criticized the respondents for hurriedly registering the FIR upon a vague complaint and abusing the criminal process by arresting some of the petitioners and forcing some to take anticipatory bail when they had been performing in other parts of the country without any hindrance. The court further asked the Police Authorities to be extra cautious in such matters, because over here the freedom of speech and expression, which is a right of every citizen under section 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, of the band members was at stake.

Corruption by public servant punishable under PCA,1988

A special leave petition was filed against a decision passed in September 2020 by the Karnataka High Court. The court upheld the decision of the special court which convicted the petitioner under the unamended  section 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 2020 which stood relevant at that time. The Section mentioned the penalty for the offences of Public Servant who took gratification other than legal remuneration in respect of an official act. Along with unamended section 13(1)(d) and 13(2) which dealt with criminal misconduct of Public Servant.

Facts of the case are as below:

The petitioner (accused) was working as Gram PanchayatSecretary of Kavalaga Village. The wife of the complainant was selected under the Ashraya Scheme during the year 2006-2007 for sanction of construction of her house. The amount sanctioned was Rs. 35,000 which was promised to be given in four installments. Two installments were cleared however during the third installment the petitioner refused to give a cheque favouring the wife of the complainant unless they agreed to pay a sum of Rs. 500 to the accused. After refusing to pay the bribe amount the complainant lodged a complaint against the petitioner in Lokayukta police station under the above mentioned sections. A trap was there after laid to catch the accused while committing the crime. He was then caught red- handed after which acharge sheet was filed.

The special court after the trial concluded that the accused was guilty and sentenced him to undergo a ‘Simple Imprisonment’ period of six months along with Rs. 1000 fine under section 7 and an imprisonment period of two years with Rs. 2000 fine under sections 13(1)(d) and 13(2).

A two judge bench consisting of Justices D. Y. Chandrachudand M. R. Shah heard the special leave petition filed and upheld the judgement. They however reduced the imprisonment time from two years to one year and six months under section 13(1)(d) and 13(2) due to his old age.

After the SLP was dismissed justice M.R. Shah however expressed his concerns towards the use of the words ‘simple imprisonment’ and stated that when public officers are involved the courts tend to award simple imprisonment whereas because it is a case of corruption stringent punishments should be granted and the matter should be handled strictly.

Function of appellate bodies transferred to existing Judicial Bod

During the 2021 Budget session a bill was introduced which aimed at dissolving certain existing Appellate bodies and transferring its functions to existing judicial bodies, however it was not passed. Owing to this the centre took immediate actions and exercised its powers under section 123 of the Indian constitution thereby passing an ordinance, Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021.

Through this ordinance Various Changes were made in different acts.

A. Amendments in the Finance Act,2017• Section 184 of the above act has been amended. The amendment empowered the central government by giving it the power to make rules regarding qualifications, appointment, term of office, salaries and allowances, resignation, removal and other terms and conditions of service of Members of Tribunals.• It states that the central government will appoint the chairperson and the members of the tribunals on the recommendation of the selection committee which will be headed by the Chief justice of India or a judge of Supreme Court appointed by him.• Based on the Madras Bar association case the ordinance amended the term for holding the office of the chairperson of a tribunal. It has been changed toa  term of 4 years or till he attains the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier for the chairperson and 4years or till he attains the age of 67 years whichever is earlier for other members of the tribunal.• It also adds that a person who is not 50years old is not eligible to be appointed as a chairperson or a member of the tribunal.

B. Tribunals removed from the purview of the finance act are:• Airport Appellate Tribunal established under the Airport Authority of India Act, 1994 • Appellate Board established under the Trade Marks Act, 1999 • Authority for Advance Ruling established under the Income Tax Act, 1961 • Film Certification Appellate Tribunal established under the Cinematograph Act, C. The ordinance transfers functions of these appellate to the following courts• To the concerned High Court from Appellate Tribunal under Cinematograph Act, 1952 • To the concerned High Court from Appellate Board under Trade Marks Act, 1999 • Appellate Board under Copyright Act, 1957 to the concerned Commercial Court or the Commercial Division of the concerned High Court; • To the concerned High Court from Authority for Advance Rulings under the Customs Act, 1962 • To the concerned High Court from Appellate Board under Patents Act, 1970 • Airport Appellate Tribunal under Airports Authority of India Act, 1994 to:

(i) Central government,

(ii) High Court, as specified;

• To the concerned Civil Court from Airport Appellate Tribunal under Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2002;• To the Concerned High Court from the Appellate Board under Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection)Act, 1999

The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal was constituted in the year 1983 under the Cinematograph Act, 1952. This statutory board was established to hear appeals from the film makers who were aggrieved by the orders of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). After the ordinance has been passed various film personalities have displayed their disappointment.

PIL in SC for Uniform Retirement age of Judges

In the year 1963, retirement age of the High Court judges was last increased from 60years to 62years. Latest proposal for another increase of the retirement age was made in 2008 which was approved by the cabinet in the year 2010 however it lapsed in 2014 due to dissolution of the Loksabha. Owing to the huge backlog of cases various recommendations were made to increase the retirement age by the parliamentary standing committee along with the law commission. In June 2019, the then chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had also requested the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to look into the matter and take relevant steps to increase the retirement age of the HC judges. In December 2019, a private bill was also introduced. There was however no steps taken and in March 2021law Minister RS Prasad mentioned that there was no proposal for the increase of the retirement age.

A petition was then filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyayinvoking Article 32 of the Indian Constitution which gives an individual a right to move to the Supreme Court to seek justice if they feel that they have been deprived of their right. It was filed to seek directions so that there is a uniform retirement age of the judges of the High Court and Supreme Court. The retirement age of High Court judges today is 62 whereas of the Supreme Court judge’s is 65years.

The petitioners urged that plenary constitutional powers should be invoked by the Supreme Court so that the retirement age of High court judges is increased to 65years until the centre reduces the time of pendency of cases from 15years to 3years.

The petitioners while presenting his case took the following grounds.

1. Initially they stated that due to early retirement finest advocated were not keen on becoming judges which is in turn effecting speedy justice as guaranteed in Article 21.2. It will strengthen the rule of law.3. Indian Justice System would be at par with the worldwide norms & standards of Higher Courts of developed countries like US, UK, Canada.