On 1st April 2020, the Writ Petition was filed relating to the detention of a Doctor which was heard by the Hon’ble Justice I. P. Mukerji under the express undertaking of the petitioner to comply with all formalities concerning the application when the Court resumes normalcy.
Mr Lokenath Chatterjee, the learned advocate of the writ petitioner, i.e. Dr Indranil Khan insisted the matter to be brought urgently before the Court. Therefore, the writ petition was taken up as an unlisted motion with the presence of an officer of the Respondents. The petitioner is a private medical practitioner who has specialized in oncology.
The Charges of Causing Disharmony
The writ petitioner was charged with “causing disharmony and feeling of hatred which disturb public tranquillity” and booked under Section 153A of the IPC. The charges concern the writ petitioner making several Facebook Posts regarding the allegedly “deficient protective gear supplied by the government to its doctors” treating patients affected with COVID-19 virus.
The Charges of Harassment
The learned counsel on behalf of the writ petitioner alleges that Dr Khan was harassed by the police in connection with FIR No. 154 dated 29th March 2020 registered with the Mahesthala Police Station. The writ petitioner was called by the police and interrogated on 29th March for a long duration of time. His mobile phone and SIM card were allegedly seized during such interrogation.
Court’s Response to the Detention of Doctor
The Court stated that it has seen the above-mentioned Facebook Posts as well as a reply made by the Department of Health and Family Welfare thanking Dr Khan for highlighting the matter.
The Court also reiterated that
“Freedom of Speech and Expression which is granted under Article 19 of the Constitution of India has to be scrupulously upheld by the State. If an expression of opinion brings the government into disrepute, it cannot defend this allegation by intimidation of the person expressing the opinion by subjecting him to prolonged interrogation.”
In the perusal of the case, the Court points out that there is no evidence of misuse of any freedom by trying to circulate the alleged “facts maliciously with a view to causing damage to another person or to the public at large or the nation.” The case does not show the petitioner spreading unnecessary panic and fear among the public.
Thus, the Court directed the Officer-in-Charge of the Maheshtala Police Station to immediately return the mobile phone and the SIM Card of the petitioner. Also, there will be no further interrogation by the police without leave from a proper court.
Additionally, the Court restrained the petitioner from making any new posts on Facebook on the above-mentioned issue. The case was heard via video conferencing as per the guidelines of the Nationwide Lockdown.
Amidst the Nation facing a pandemic crisis due to the spread of COVID-19 virus, the doctors and other medical professionals are working on the frontlines to mitigate the crisis. Lack of sufficient Personal Protective Equipment for doctors has become an issue worldwide. There have been reports of the centre exporting PPE despite World Health Organization’s guidelines dated 27th February which directed countries to stockpile on protective gear.
Even the doctors at AIIMS had issued a complaint on 24th March 2020 regarding the dearth of masks and gloves. In such a scenario, harassing and interrogating a medical professional for no given reason has been condemned by medical professionals all over the country. The public is depending on them to provide relevant information that could help the State to make accurate policy decisions.
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