INCIDENTS OF circulation of “false/fake news” and rumours, a crime under the Indian Penal Code, saw nearly a three-fold rise in 2020 over 2019, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
A total of 1,527 cases of fake news were recorded in the pandemic year — a 214 per cent increase — against 486 cases in 2019 and 280 cases in 2018, when the category was first included.
Telangana with 273 cases tops the list of states followed by Tamil Nadu (188) and Uttar Pradesh (166). Hyderabad tops the list of cities with 208 cases, followed by Chennai (42) and Delhi (30).
While addressing fake news has been crucial in containing the spread of the virus, several states labelled those raising an alarm over shortage of beds and oxygen as spreading fake news.
In April, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that the stringent National Security Act will be invoked against social media posts on shortage of oxygen. In April 2020, a local BJP leader was booked under sedition after he allegedly posted on Facebook urging people to make donations as there were “no ventilators” in Ludhiana to treat Covid patients.
IPC Section 505, a broad provision relating to “statements conducing to public mischief”, punishes acts of rumour mongering and circulation of false news. “Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news with intent to create or promote, or which is likely to create or promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both,” it states.