The police register cases under Section 505 of IPC for circulation of fake/false news or rumours with an intent to promote or create enmity, hatred etc. Data from the NCRB’s CII reports indicate that the number of cases registered under Sec. 505 of IPC reduced by 42% in 2021 while pendency of these cases has increased both with the police & courts. The conviction rate in these cases has also reduced.
Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code deals with “statements conducing to public mischief”. Subsection 2 of this Section reads, “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.” In simpler terms, the circulation of rumours and fake news with an intent to promote or create enmity, hatred etc. is a punishable offence. The punishment can extend to 3 years of prison term and/or penalty.
NCRB provides data on cases registered under Section 505 of IPC
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), under the Ministry of Home Affairs, provides detailed statistics about the state of crimes, and law & order in the country in its annual Crime in India (CII) publication. Since 2017, statistics pertaining to cases registered for circulation of false/ fake news, and rumours under Section 505 of IPC were separately provided in the report. Under IPC Crimes, state-wise and metropolitan city-wise data on cases registered under the aforesaid IPC section has been provided in the report under ‘Miscellaneous IPC Crimes’. It must be noted that like with all other data provided in NCRB reports, even the data for cases under Sec. 505 of the IPC represents only those registered by the police and not the true extent of the crime.
Number of cases registered for circulation of ‘fake/false news and rumours’ down by 42% in 2021
As per the NCRB’s CII reports, from less than 300 cases each reported in 2017 and 2018, and less than 500 in 2019, the number of cases registered under Section 505, IPC increased by 3.2 times in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Close to 45% of the cases registered under this head in the five years between 2017 and 2021 were registered in 2020 alone. In 2021, the number of cases registered dropped to 882 registering a 42.2% decline as compared to 2020. In both 2020 and 2021, the crime rate of the cases under Sec. 505 of IPC was 0.1.
9 states account for nearly 84% of the cases registered between 2017 and 2021
A total of 3,422 cases were registered under Sec. 505 of IPC between 2017 and 2021, out of which 592 were registered in Telangana alone. That is, Telangana alone registered 17.3% of the cases registered across the country in these five years. Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh were next in line with 475 cases registered each. Uttar Pradesh registered 357 cases. These four states together accounted for 55.5% of all the cases. Maharashtra, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh registered more than 200 cases each while West Bengal and Gujarat registered more than 100 cases each. Altogether, these 9 states accounted for nearly 84% of the cases registered under this section between 2017 & 2021. On the other side, the states of Goa, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram, along with union territories except for Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir, registered zero to 6 cases each.
4 out of 10 cases under Section 505 have been registered in the Southern states
Data indicates that the south Indian states (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala) accounted for 40% of the cases registered under Sec. 505 between 2017 & 2021. The North Indian states of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh and UTs of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh, Delhi, and Chandigarh accounted for 21.8% of the registered cases. Central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh accounted for 14.9%, less than what is registered in Telangana alone. Western Indian states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Goa accounted for 11.1% whereas the Eastern states of Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal accounted for less than 6%. Northeastern states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram accounted for less than 4%.
A higher number of cases registered closer to election years & during the COVID-19 pandemic
Across states, the trends reveal that a higher number of cases was registered around the time of elections. For instance, in Tamil Nadu where the state legislative assembly elections took place in 2021, about two-thirds of the cases registered in the state since 2017 were in 2020 and 2021. Madhya Pradesh registered 29% of the cases in 2017 and 27% cases in 2021. Madhya Pradesh’s state legislative assembly elections were held in 2018 and the next is scheduled for 2023. In West Bengal where the elections were held in 2021, 87% of cases were registered in 2020 and 2021. Likewise, in Bihar, about 63% of the cases were registered in 2020, the year when the elections were held. Another major reason for an increase in cases during 2020 could be the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pandemic could have contributed to the increase in cases in 2020
Many states like Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Haryana have also reported an increase in the number of registered cases under Sec. 505 in the year 2020 and a drop in 2021. Since these states did not have an election, the only other reason that explains an increase is the COVID-19 pandemic & the related misinformation.
According to a study on ‘Prevalence and source analysis of COVID-19 misinformation in 138 countries’ published in Sage’s ‘International Federation of Library Associations’, India(18%) was the biggest source of misinformation, followed by Brazil (9%) and USA (8.6%). It also noted that the amount of misinformation was also the highest in India (16%) followed by the USA (10%) and Brazil (9%). The data used in the study included 9518 pieces of misinformation from 138 countries collected from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) website.
Police’s chargesheeting rate has dropped over the years while pendency with police has doubled
A chargesheet is prepared by police as a final report naming the accused persons against whom charges can be framed. It is an indicator of the disposal of crimes by the police. The charge sheeting rate of cases booked under Section 505 of IPC has been between 65 to 83% during 2017 & 2021. It was the highest in 2017 at 83%, dropped to the lowest at 65.6% in 2018, and has been above 70% since then. Simultaneously, the pendency of these cases with the police has increased from 27% to 54.6% between 2017 & 2021.
On the other hand, the conviction rate is an indicator of the disposal of cases by courts and is defined as the share of convicted cases out of the total cases in which the trial was complete in a particular year. The conviction rate of these cases has dropped considerably over the years, from 72.6% in 2017 to 43.4% in 2021. Simultaneously, the pendency of cases with the Courts has increased from 48.3% in 2017 to more than 90% since 2018.
The poor disposal rates by both police and courts indicate a growing problem of pendency. This coupled with the poor conviction rate in courts does not serve as a deterrent to those who spread & circulate fake news. Addressing a global & growing problem like the spread of fake news is very important, the police & the courts have an important role to play in this.
Fact-checking unit has been set up under PIB
The central government has set up a Fact Checking Unit under the Press Information Bureau (PIB) which takes cognizance of fake news both suo motu and by way of queries sent by citizens on its portal or through e-mail and WhatsApp and responds to the relevant queries with correct information. The PIB’s fact-check unit address claims related to the government only.
A website, Portal – https://factcheck.pib.gov.in/ for reporting of fake news and for fact-checking information by the citizens has also been launched. The Unit also maintains a Twitter account @PIBFactcheck and tweets about false claims.
Featured Image: Circulation of Fake News