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Home / India News / ‘Action will follow if platforms don’t act against fake news’: Ravi Shankar Prasad

‘Action will follow if platforms don’t act against fake news’: Ravi Shankar Prasad

Union law minister criticised the members of the Nizamuddin congregation.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2020 06:12 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Union law minister speaks to the media.
Union law minister speaks to the media. (HT File/Mohd. Zakir)

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has warned of strict action against those spreading fake news about the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. In an interview with Smriti Kak Ramachandran, Prasad also spoke about the 21-day lockdown imposed to halt the pandemic, delivery of essential supplies and other related issues. Edited excerpts:

Does the government have a plan to combat misinformation and fake news circulating on social media about the pandemic?

The PM has shown great leadership when the pandemic has affected the world. Our country has responded in unison, except for occasional politicising (of the issue) by the Congress. A county of 1.3 billion has followed the lockdown. The PM has also shown great leadership in terms of engagement, with chief ministers, health care workers, media, sportspersons and manufacturers. He has interacted with the most of civil society. Many of us are in touch with district magistrates and police officers, which is a feedback mechanism. That way the entire country has been aroused by the PM to fight against this virus. It is in this light that religious leaders, too, need rise to the occasion. Many of them are doing it and we appreciate that.

The Tabligi congregation at Nizammudin and the way its leaders behaved was irresponsible. I am happy that the central government and the state governments are working together to contain, isolate and subject them (members of the congregation) to quarantining and testing. I also appreciate the quick decision of home minister Amit Shah who cancelled the tourists visas of all foreigners (who had come to attend the congregation) who were moving around in violation of norms.

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In this scenario, it is very important that the social media platforms are very responsible. I am a great supporter of social media; it is very empowering. We respect freedom, but during these challenging times, these platforms have to rise to the occasion and show greater sensitivity and accountability so that the common resolve is not weakened.

I hope platforms such as TikTOk, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and others are not abused to spread fake news or disturbing videos, or mocking the resolve to fight the virus. If they do not rise to the occasion, action will follow. I reiterate that some offensive videos are reprehensible and should be removed forthwith.

How is the government addressing concerns about the internet bandwidth and the pressure on IT infrastructure with so many working from home because of the lockdown?

India is an important country of back-end offices. The first thing we did was to relax the guidelines enabling people to work from home. It has been appreciated. In case of emergency, if officers need to step out, they are allowed with due permission. Yes, there is a load on the internet and we also sensitised the stakeholders to take suitable technological measures so that the load on internet, mobile phones is reduced. About 40% of the data consumption is through videos on the mobiles. We appreciate that they have taken measures to reduce the load by 15-20%. BSNL has extended the validity of the SIM cards so that at least poor people can continue to talk. Some of the private operators are also doing the same. Our postal department has also stepped up and is helping recharge the SIMs.

With the interstate transport systems not functioning, will the postal department be able to step in during this crisis?

I appreciate the role of the postal department and its vast network, which, apart from delivering goods, medicines through air courier services, and other urgent requirements in the fight against corona, is also assisting in food supply for those in need. The postal department is in the exempted category. Their network is huge. The cargo flights for the postal services are working and we are coordinating in every way.

There been an increase in digital transactions; what does Covid-19 mean for e-commerce companies?

Digital payments have risen in India. In fact, the larger narrative of digital India, the digital delivery of services to digital payment to UPI platform to Aadhar-enabled payment system to direct benefit transfer... all these are working in coordination. That is what digital India is meant for. India will be a big place for e-commerce. A large number of e-commerce corporations are being used in small towns and in the hinterland that do not have big malls. Here the postal department is emerging as a big power in the delivery of e-commerce products. I see very promising future for them... e-commerce is going to be a huge enterprise in India.

There has been a problem in delivery of goods though...

These are challenging times. The postal department is also helping them... As of now the main focus is the success of the lockdown and social distancing and containing the spread (of the virus).

Do you think laws need to be changed to deal with such pandemics? The government had to invoke the lockdown under the Disaster Management Act, which provides limited powers to the Centre.

The Act is sufficient. It is a pan India act, and gives sufficient powers, including penal. It also allows prioritising deliveries during the emergency times, what should be the exempted categories etc. But, yes this kind of pandemic happens once in 100 years. Even big countries have been brought to their knees. Therefore, with the experience of this, we will have to explore future challenges.

Is there a need for a new law or an amendment to provide protection to doctors and health staff facing attacks?

As of now, the health workers have been given Rs 50 lakh of additional [insurance] cover. It is important that while the law should be enforced, society too must rise to the occasion. I very strongly condemn the attacks on doctors who are doing a great service. You all need to appreciate the vision of the PM, who asked people to clap for these doctors and health care staff (on March 22). And this programme on Sunday night-- of lighting a lamp-- is also designed to ensure a lamp of hope is lit that India will overcome (this pandemic).

How will the restrictions be eased post the 21-day lockdown?

The decision should be left to the health care professionals, depending on the condition in the country. The PM has already briefed the chief ministers. This should not be considered in isolation; it should be left to the wisdom of the PM. He is in consultations with the stakeholders and health care professionals.

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