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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

State can’t make sweeping remarks on Covid-19 spread through newspapers: Bombay HC

On April 18, the Maharashtra government had issued guidelines to control spread of pandemic and said that door-to-door delivery of newspapers and magazines was prohibited although the print media has been exempted from the lockdown.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai | Updated: April 27, 2020 10:18:23 pm
The court Monday asked the state to file an additional response to its queries along with report by amicus curiae Bora and posted the matter for further hearing on June 11. (Express Photo by Pradeep Kocharekar)

The Bombay High Court’s Aurangabad bench Monday pulled up the state government, saying it cannot make sweeping statements about the chances of spread of COVID-19 infection through newspapers without taking opinions of health experts.

A single-judge bench of Justice Prasanna B Varale heard a plea through video conference as it took a suo motu cognisance of newspaper reports related to the Maharashtra government’s decision prohibiting door-to door delivery of newspapers in view of the COVID-19 lockdown.

On April 18, the Maharashtra government had issued guidelines to control spread of pandemic and said that door-to-door delivery of newspapers and magazines was prohibited although the print media has been exempted from the lockdown.

The court, on April 21 directed the state government to file its response on the decision within a week’s time. The bench appointed advocate Satyajit Bora as amicus curiae to assist the court.

However, on the same day, the state government permitted door-to-door delivery of newspapers in the state, except in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Pune, where it may be sold at exempted units such as grocery stores and milk vends.

In keeping with the court’s earlier directions, Government Pleader D R Kale submitted the state’s response on Monday. One of the submissions in its affidavit mentioned:

“According to the experts, COVID-19 virus can stay on various surfaces for a considerable amount of time and the newspaper is something that will be passed on by hand to hand by various people which can increases the chances of infection spreading to more people.”

The court, however, said “one fails to understand the logic behind the statement”.

“It seems that this is only a general and sweeping statement made in affidavit in reply. There is no reference to any comment of the experts in the field or any opinion formed by anybody working in the health area,” Justice Varale stated in the order.

The court said, on the contrary, the statements of certain experts published in the newspapers are to the effect that there is no need to carry an impression that the newspaper is a medium for spreading of coronavirus.

On April 21, Justice Varale had noted that while most newspapers are available through e-paper mode, not many can access them as they may not be conversant with the technology.

The High Court had further observed, “If the state government is permitting the public to approach the stalls and shops to purchase newspapers, meaning thereby there would be one reason or excuse for the public general to move out of the houses in the lockdown period, it would certainly cause some movements on the streets.”

The court added, “On the other hand, the state government is prohibiting door-to-door delivery/distribution of newspapers, whereby the public general may get the newspapers at the doorstep through delivery boys and need not move on the streets for purchase of newspapers.”

The court had also said that the state government can certainly consider restricting door-to-door delivery of newspapers in particular areas.

The court Monday asked the state to file an additional response to its queries along with report by amicus curiae Bora and posted the matter for further hearing on June 11.

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