Impact of Social Media on Institutions
It is really good to see that the new Chief Justice of India(CJI) NV Ramana who was appointed as the 48th CJI on 6th April, 2021 and took oath as CJI on 24th April 2021 has very rightly expressed his concern on the social media noise and how it adversely impacts the institutions also like judiciary to a great extent which actually should not be the case. The CJI NV Ramana whose reputation is of a very down-to-earth upright person who always speaks politely but powerfully has struck the right note on this. The CJI NV Ramana has very rightly suggested a debate on the impact of the social media noise on institutions such as the judiciary as such noise may not necessarily be reflective of what is right but may put the institution under a lot of stress and pressure.
It goes without saying that there are very few Judges like the incumbent CJI NV Ramana and Justice Dr DY Chandrachud among others who never come under pressure of such noise. All Judges must emulate them and should care the least about what the social media says on any particular case and should exercise their own brain muscles to come to the right, rational and robust conclusion. Only then can our nation progress, prosper and become powerful.
Truth be told, the CJI very rightly said that the judiciary must be completely freed of all pressures if it was to act as a check on governmental power. He also very rightly pointed out that the judiciary cannot be controlled directly or indirectly by the legislature or the executive or else the rule of law would become illusory. All those who are in the legislature or the executive must always pay heed to what the CJI NV Ramana has said and conduct themselves accordingly.
It cannot be denied that the CJI NV Ramana has very rightly said that Judges cannot be swayed by the emotional pitch of public opinion which gets amplified by social media platforms. He also very rightly said which must be adhered to also in totality that, “Judges have to be mindful of the fact that the noise thus amplified is not necessarily reflective of what is right or what the majority believes in.” Judges must always go by the laid down law and the evidence that is produced before it and how valid it is for either acquitting or convicting the accused. Nothing else should matter at all for Judges!
Without mincing any words and showing the real mirror, the CJI NV Ramana then very rightly, remarkably and rationally pointed out that, “The new media tools that have enormous amplifying ability are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, good and bad, and the real and fake. Therefore, media trials cannot be a guiding factor in deciding cases.”
If there is one recent case to the best of my memory which in my opinion is amply good to demonstrate that in India we see a complete mockery of personal liberty was made, it is that of none other than a serving Lt Colonel in the Indian Army – Prasad Shrikant Purohit who even before charge sheet was framed against him was labelled a hardline “Hindu terrorist” accused of masterminding Malegaon blast in Maharashtra in which 7 Muslims were killed and many others injured in a mosque where the blast occurred. Some news channels adding fuel to the fire while according prime coverage to his case dubbed him as a Hindu hardliner out to convert India into a Hindu nation from a secular nation as it is now! All sorts of absurd things were shown on media! Nothing on earth can be further from the truth!
It needs no rocket scientist to conclude that this played a key role in turning the tide of people’s sentiments against him which clearly tantamount to “worst media trial” which cannot be ever justified under any circumstances! Even Army must hundred percent feel most terribly ashamed for not doing anything to save him from suffering the worst ignominy without committing any crime! How could Mumbai ATS ensure that a serving Army officer was illegally arrested, illegally detained, illegally tortured for a long time before formally effecting his arrest and then illegally kept in jail for nine years did not file even a charge sheet against him with Army watching everything like a mute and helpless spectator and media maintaining a pin drop silence on it? There is certainly more to it than meets the eye!
What makes his entire case most murky is that the illegal manner in which he was arrested by Mumbai ATS notorious for indulging in many fake encounters along with an Army Intelligence officer named Col RK Srivastav, illegally detained, illegally tortured and after many days was then officially arrested! As if this was not enough, Mumbai ATS did not file chargesheet against Lt Col Purohit for 9 long years and he kept rotting in jail all this while and it was only a super legal giant named Harish Salve who is not just a top lawyer in India and England but is also the highest paid lawyer of India and also a former Solicitor General that Supreme Court ultimately granted bail to Lt Col Purohit! Even in medical examination conducted, it was confirmed that Lt Col Purohit was brutally tortured still why no action was taken against all those who tortured him? No men in uniform has any legal right to torture anyone even if someone is accused of being involved in a heinous crime whether it is terror or any other offence and that too a serving senior Army Officer!
In a lighter vein, it must be asked: What was Mumbai ATS doing for one year after arresting Lt Col Purohit as it failed to file a chargesheet? Were offering havan in some temple and saying Swaha! What after two years? Swaha! What after three years? Swaha! What after four years? Swaha! What after five years? Swaha! What after six years after Mumbai ATS handed over the case to NIA? Swaha! What after seven years? Swaha! What after eight years? Swaha! What after nine years? Swaha and then some action finally happened as Supreme Court appeared quite convinced with senior and eminent lawyer Harish Salve’s arguments for bail of his client Lt Col Purohit as even charge sheet was not filed against him of 9 years and the charges of MCOCA were just untenable! Why the same promptness was not showed in filing charge sheet as was shown in arresting him by Mumbai ATS? It is because what all was done was at the behest of the party in power and there was no concrete evidence that could be used against him and the media maintained a deafening silence on it instead of asking Mumbai ATS as to how could they arrest a serving Army Officer and then keep him in jail for nine years without even filing a charge sheet against him! NIA too had said that bombs were planted by Mumbai ATS in Col Purohit’s house!
More than 76 serving Army Officers testified in his favour and even in Army Court of Inquiry, he got a clean chit and even Maj Gen GD Bakshi, Col RSN Singh, Major Gaurav Arya among others all spoke in his favour and he had an excellent service track record with invaluable experience of having served even in J&K for many years and got many citations apart from Chief of Army Staff commendation card but media did not highlight all this and just portrayed him in negative light! This ensured that he was locked up in jail for 9 years without even charge sheet not being field against him! It is this same media which glorified the Pakistani invader Gen Pervez Musharaf who masterminded Kargil war in which we officially lost more than 600 soldiers, termed terrorists as freedom fighters and in his tenure as Army Chief and President, India witnessed maximum terror attacks and yet media hailed him and some media houses even honoured him like a royal emperor for what I fail to comprehend even now many years later and this same media wastes no time to depict an Indian brave soldier and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian Army as a “Hindu Terrorist” and hails Mumbai ATS for keeping him in jail for 9 long years without filing even a charge sheet!
It is here that judiciary also came under pressure from social media and did just nothing to find out the truth and allowed the serving Army officer of rank of Lieutenant Colonel to rot in the jail for 9 years and face immense torture as was confirmed in the medical report also but this was never highlighted in the media! Media has a lot of explaining to do on this! So we all must always bear this in mind that media does not always show or speak the truth and very often gets biased in its reporting as we saw in case of Lt Colonel Purohit!
Coming back to CJI NV Ramana views on social media noises and its impact on institutions. He further also said that, “It is therefore extremely vital to function independently and withstand all external aids and pressures. While there is a lot of discussion about the pressure from the executive, it is also imperative to start a discourse as to how social media trends can affect the institutions.”
Going ahead, CJI Ramana also said that, “This, however, does not mean that Judges should dissociate themselves completely from what is going on.” CJI Ramana was speaking on “Rule of Law” at the 17th PD Memorial Lecture delivered on 30 June, 2021. The CJI Ramana cautioned that the pandemic may be a pre-cursor to a bigger crisis in the days to come and called for an honest evaluation of whether the rule of law had been used to ensure the welfare of all. He said that he didn’t want to give such an evaluation as he was bound by his post and temperament.
In essence, social media must be bound not to create a hype on cases which have not been decided by a court of law. Whenever cases of importance are to be decided, social media must refrain from passing advanced judgments by holding kangaroo courts and kangaroo judges and kangaroo trial and kangaroo judgment as we saw most shamefully in case of Lt Col Prasad Shrikanth Purohit! Only then can law take its own course!
Of course, Judges too must not get biased and must decide cases at the earliest with an unbiased mindset as it is very difficult to totally gag media from reporting on sensitive cases! Judges should not get influenced by what media says and should always decide the case on merit!
Also, Judges must not allow cases to keep pending for decades and if police fails to file charge sheet within the stipulated time of 90 days in serious cases and 60 days in other cases then it must acquit the accused. Police cannot hold the life, liberty and reputation of an individual to ransom by not filing a charge sheet for 9 years as we saw most shamefully and most disgracefully in case of Lt Col Purohit and so is the case in many other cases also and judiciary must act tough on all the erring police officials! Judiciary should never buckle under pressure from social media under any circumstances! Only then can our legal system function smoothly, efficiently and as per law as it should always function which will definitely ensure that justice is done to the victim and the accused is not wrongly punished! This is the very purpose also of our courts! What the CJI has said is cent percent right and steps must be initiated in that direction as CJI wants also so that social media noise does not sway a Judge as they want by colouring his thoughts and beliefs which can have an impact on the judgment also as this will always be detrimental to the way in which cases are decided by Judges and this we all who believe in “due process of law” would never want to happen under any circumstances!