The police in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, have filed a criminal case against a man who used Twitter to appeal for an oxygen cylinder for his grandfather, The Wire reported on Wednesday.
Shashank Yadav had not mentioned if his grandfather had the coronavirus. However, the police filed an FIR against him for allegedly circulating a rumour with the intent to cause fear or alarm.
The police claimed that the man was “spreading misleading information”, according to The Indian Express. Sub-inspector Virendra Singh of the Ramganj police station claimed that Yadav provided false information on oxygen supply and the coronavirus to target the Uttar Pradesh government. “It was found during the inquiry that because of the accused’s false tweet, several persons made allegations against the government,” Singh told the newspaper.
Yadav had initially sent an SOS using Twitter on Monday evening and tagged actor Sonu Sood. His friend Ankit amplified the message and sought help from The Wire journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani.
A few hours later, she, in turn, posted a tweet asking for help for Yadav’s grandfather. None of these messages mentioned the coronavirus. Sherwani also tagged Union minister and Amethi MP Smriti Irani for help.
In less than 30 minutes, Irani responded that she had called Yadav multiple times but was not able to reach out to him. She added that she had asked the district magistrate and the Amethi police to follow up.
But by this time, Yadav’s grandfather had died. After Ankit informed Sherwani of this, she passed on the information to Irani. The Union minister expressed her condolences and said: “Kept calling his number, we all did including CMO, Amethi police...I just wish he had picked up his phone.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Amethi District Magistrate Arun Kumar responded to Sherwani’s original tweet that sought help and shared the Chief Medical Officer’s report. It said that Yadav’s grandfather did not have Covid-19 and was undergoing treatment at a private hospital in Durgapur.
Later that evening, the police responded to Yadav’s tweet and said the 88-year-old man did not have the coronavirus but died of a heart attack at 8 pm. “At this time it is not only condemnable, but also a legal offense to post such type of fear-generating posts on social media,” the police said.
Though patients who have contracted Covid need oxygen, it is not the only disease that causes breathing problems – something that the Amethi administration has ignored.
Amethi Superintendent of Police Dinesh Singh on Wednesday said that Yadav posted an “irresponsible” tweet to create “sensation” and spread fear.
In a video, Singh said that Yadav visited his grandfather for five minutes and after leaving, posted a tweet asking for oxygen. “Investigation revealed that he [Yadav’s grandfather] was neither Covid positive nor did he require oxygen for medical needs nor it was any doctor’s advice,” the police officer said. “Just to create sensation, he [Yadav] wrote that he needs oxygen for his grandfather.”
Singh said that the police had tried to contact him following his tweet, but Yadav did not attend the phone call. “When the [police] team reached, he was found sleeping,” he said.
The police officer added that Yadav was released after giving him a strict warning.
The FIR was filed at the Ramganj police station under IPC sections 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 505 (1)(b) (makes a statement or rumour or report with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility). The police also invoked the Epidemic Act and the Disaster Management Act against him.
If convicted, Yadav could face time in prison.
India’s Covid-19 crisis has reached horrific proportions, with hospitals turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds. Patients are struggling to get access to medicines and ventilators, and hospitals are taking to Twitter or going to court to desperately plead for more oxygen supplies.
This police action came merely days after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath proclaimed that there was no shortage of medical oxygen in the state. In a virtual interaction with select journalists on April 24, Adityanath said no hospital in Uttar Pradesh, be it government or private, has any shortage of oxygen. He claimed that hoarding and black marketing were causing the scarcity.
Adityanath had also demanded that action be taken under the National Security Act and properties of those spreading “rumours” and propaganda on social media be seized.
Even in a review meeting with top officials on April 25, he instructed them to act against private hospitals if they found them to be reporting a scarcity of oxygen supply just to “create fear”, reported The Hindu.
Last week, Twitter took down 52 tweets on the coronavirus situation in India, on the Narendra Modi government’s request. Most of them were critical of India’s handling of the second wave of the pandemic and were posted by Congress MP Revanth Reddy, West Bengal minister Moloy Ghatak, actor Vineet Kumar Singh and filmmakers Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das.
A day later, the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to remove about 100 posts, The Indian Express reported. Unidentified sources in the ministry claimed that the content was “unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals, communally sensitive posts and misinformation about COVID19 protocols”.