The Supreme Court has recently directed the Centre and States to notify their chief secretaries and police chiefs that any clampdown on information on social media or harassment caused to individuals seeking/delivering help on any platform will attract a coercive action.
The Top Court took note of the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the country, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Special Bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat noted that individuals seeking help on social medial platforms have been targeted, by alleging that the information posted by them is false and has only been posted in social media to create panic, defame the administration or damage the “national image”.
“We do not hesitate in saying that such targeting shall not be condoned, and the Central Government and State Governments should ensure that they immediately cease any direct or indirect threats of prosecution and arrest to citizens who air grievances or those that are attempting to help fellow citizens receive medical aid. If this does keep happening even after the current order, this Court shall be constrained to use the powers available to it under it contempt jurisdiction. We also direct that all Directors General of Police shall ensure compliance down the ranks of the police forces within their jurisdictions.” the order said.
Further the bench observed that many cities in India are suffering through the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have turned to the internet, using applications/websites to find critical support. On these platforms, online communities led by members of the civil society and other individuals, have assisted the needy in multiple ways – often by helping them procure oxygen, essential drugs or find a hospital bed through their own networks or by amplifying original requests, and even by offering moral and emotional support.
The directions were passed in a suo motu case for ensuring essential supplies and services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court directed Central Government and State Governments to notify all Chief Secretaries/Directors General of Police/Commissioners of Police that any clampdown on information on social media or harassment caused to individuals seeking/delivering help on any platform will attract a coercive exercise of jurisdiction by the Supreme Court.