In the Matter of Swadheen Kumar Raut v. State of Odisha the criminal case against him that was ongoing in the Court of Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate, Bhubaneswar under Sections 269, 270, 120-B, and 505(1)(b) of the Penal Code, 1860 read with Section 52 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The criminal case was filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 OTV News Channel aired a telephone conversation between two guys on 06-08-2020 in which one of the men claimed to have come back from a COVID hospital after learning he was Corona positive. It was reported that one of the guys downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus and said it could be treated without medication during the talk, which was posted on social media and YouTube. In accordance with Sections 269, 270, 120-B, 505(1)(b) of the IPC, and Section 52 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, a First Information Report was filed, alleging that OTV was preventing the public from receiving the required care, hence accelerating the spread of COVID. The audio tape is also said to have stoked anxiety over the clinical handling of COVID patients and medical treatment protocols. Additionally, it was claimed that OTV was circulating untrue information regarding Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and other private COVID hospitals accepting fictitious cases in order to reach daily objectives and misusing funds provided by the Central Government for COVID patients.
Analysis of Court Decision
The Orissa High Court’s Single Judge Bench Dr. S. Muralidhar granted the plea and overturned the petitioner’s disciplinary actions.
The Court listened to the dialogue on the audio recording and noted that the respondent’s attorney was unable to specify which specific passage in the conversation fit the bill for the offence of generating fear and spreading terror among the general public. The Court further stated that the dialogue as a whole demonstrated that it did provide some precautionary advice regarding the type of therapy a COVID-positive may or may not need. The court said that it did stress how crucial it is to wear masks and take precautions to stop the COVID epidemic from spreading. The Court ruled that the public’s unwarranted concern was caused by the transmission of the aforementioned audio clip.
As a result, after carefully reading the FIR and the conversation record, the Court declared that it was convinced that the petitioner was not guilty of the acts for which the FIR was filed. The court further stated that it appeared as though the conversation was casual and not meant to frighten the public and that it was extremely unlikely that such conversation would somehow persuade the public to forgo receiving Covid treatment, contributing to the spread of the pandemic, much less persuade the public to commit crimes against the state. Because of this, the Court believed that the prosecution of the Petitioner, an Input Editor for OTV, in the criminal case, was likely to have a chilling effect on press freedom. As a result, the Court granted the petition, and all related processes that were taking place in the S.D.J.M. Court in Bhubaneswar were annulled.