The Madras High Court on Thursday while dismissing a petition filed against exemption granted to the print media from the nationwide lockdown held that "mere apprehensions" that newspapers may carry the Corona virus cannot be the basis for restricting the right to information of the citizens.
A bench comprising of Justice N. Kirubakaran and Justice R. Hemalatha observed,
"Mere apprehension or least probability cannot be a ground to prohibit the publication of newspapers as it would amount to violation of the Fundamental Rights, of not only the publisher, editor but also the readers, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India."
The observation was made in the backdrop of various research reports filed by the Petitioner claiming that paper, particularly newspapers, may be "potential carriers" of the Corona virus.
The Petitioner submitted that if Newspapers are published and it is supplied to the readers, there is a possibility of spreading virus, even if the paper delivery boy is infected with the Corona Virus. To back his claims, he relied upon a study named "Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1" published in The New England Journal of Medicine, whereby it was asserted that the virus can survive in the newspaper for 4-5 days.
Dispelling all such notions, the bench pointed out that all such researches were "preliminary" in nature and as such, these speculations are not conclusive. It observed,
"It is evident from the records and also from the Media that spreading of virus through Newspapers or through Paper surface is not that much extensive. As rightly pointed out by the learned Additional Advocate General the research in this field is very limited and minimal. When the researches have not been extensively made and conclusively it has not been decided, based on preliminary researches and in the absence of statistics available, if the Print Media is going to be restrained, then it would go against the fundamental rights of the Citizens of the Country"
The court went on to rely on a research study submitted by the Petitioner himself wherein it was stated that though paper products have a risk of spreading the disease, still amongst all the scenario through which the virus can be spread, transmission through newspapers is the "least probable". The research also suggested that the spread of pathogen could be curbed by simply washing hands with soaps after handling the newspapers or currency notes.
In this backdrop the court held,
"When the professor of virology himself stated that transmission of virus through paper products is least probable, there cannot be any apprehension in the mind of people that the virus can spread through newspapers. Even otherwise there are methods by which the spread of virus could be prohibited/ prevented by ironing the newspapers using the iron box before reading or washing the hands with soap after reading the newspapers. Mere apprehension or least probability cannot be a ground to prohibit the publication of newspapers as it would amount to violation of the Fundamental Rights, of not only the publisher, editor but also the readers, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India."
The bench also noted that even the countries where these researches had been conducted, had not prohibited the publication of newspapers.
Thus the court dismissed the petition and held that the right to information is a fundamental right and therefore, any steps to restrain the Print Media from publishing will go against the fundamental rights of the Citizens.
It concluded by quoting, "Newspapers have become more important to the average man than the scriptures."
Case Title: T. Ganesh Kumar v. Union of India & Ors.
Case No.: WP No. 7457/2020
Quorum: Justice N. Kirubakaran and Justice R. Hemalatha
Appearance: Senior Advocate A. Ramesh (for Petitioner); Additional Advocate General PH Aravind Pandian assisted by Special Government Pleader AN Thambidurai and Government Advocate CV Sailendhran (for Respondents)
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