The Supreme Court on Friday said that governments should not curb the voices on social media either calling out for medical help or conveying their grievances during the coronavirus pandemic, Bar and Bench reported.
“We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievance on social media and internet then it cannot be said its wrong information,” Justice DY Chandrachud said. “We don’t want any clampdown of information. We will treat it as a contempt of court if such grievances is considered for action.”
The judge said that this should send a strong message to all states and director generals of police of states. “Clampdown of information is contrary to basic precepts,” he added.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a suo motu case regarding the supply of essential medicines, drugs and vaccines during the pandemic.
India is currently in the middle of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Cases are increasing at an alarming rate and the healthcare system is under severe stress. India has recorded more than 3 lakh cases a day for the past nine days, and also registered record high daily deaths.
Hospitals are turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds. Patients are struggling to get access to medicines and ventilators, and many have taken to social media for help or to express their grievances. Hospitals have even gone to court to desperately plead for more oxygen supplies.
Earlier this week, the Uttar Pradesh police filed a criminal case against a man who used Twitter to appeal for an oxygen cylinder for his grandfather. Though the man had not mentioned if his grandfather had the coronavirus, the police filed an FIR against him for allegedly circulating a rumour with the intent to cause fear or alarm.
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”.
International coverage of India’s pandemic has been critical of religious gatherings such as the Kumbh Mela and massive election rallies in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, which recently went to the polls. India has taken strong exception to these articles that blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged incompetence, and dismissed them as baseless or malicious reports.