SC warns against silencing people raising grievances on internet

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Terming the second wave of COVID-19 as a national crisis, the Supreme Court on Friday warned authorities, from the Centre down to police chiefs, against silencing people and their pleas for help on the presumption that they are raising false grievances on the internet.

The top court made clear that any attempt to clampdown on free flow of information on social media including the call for help from people would be treated as the contempt of court.

“There should be free flow of information, we should hear voices of citizens,” said a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud, and asked the Centre, states and all DGPs not to take any action against anyone who is posting messages on social media about issues like shortage of oxygen, beds or doctors as spreading rumour.

If any action is taken against such posts by citizens in distress, we will treat it as contempt of the court, said the bench which also comprised Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.

The observations assume significance in view the recent decision of the Uttar Pradesh administration to prosecute people under the National Security Act for allegedly raising false alarms on social media.

The hearing before the top court on the suo motu case for devising national policy for COVID-19 management is underway.

The bench is taking up issues such as projected demand of oxygen in the country at present and near future and as to how the government intended to allocate it to critically-affected states and about the monitoring mechanism to ensure supply.

It observed during the hearing that even frontline doctors and healthcare workers were not getting beds for treatment and the healthcare infrastructure inherited over past 70 years was not sufficient and the situation was grim.

The apex court said hostels, temples, churches and other places be opened for converting them as COVID-19 care centres.

It said the Centre should adopt national immunization model as poor people will not be able to pay for vaccines.

“What happens to the marginalised and SC/ST population? Should they be left to the mercy of private hospitals, it asked.

The court also said the government must consider National Immunisation Programme for various vaccines and must think of providing free of cost vaccination to all citizens.

It said the healthcare sector has come to a breaking point and retired doctors or officials could be re-employed in this crisis.

The top court also said that private vaccine manufacturers cannot be allowed to decide which state should get how much.

It allowed the Centre to give a power point power point presentation on COVID-19 preparation.

The bench also rapped the Delhi government over COVID-19 situation in the national capital and said that there should not be any political bickering and it should cooperate with the Centre to deal with situation.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said Delhi is not able to lift the oxygen quantity due to logistical issues.

Politics is for election and at this time of humanitarian crisis each and every life needs to be taken care of. Please convey our message to highest level that they have to keep politics aside and talk to Centre,” the bench said.

It told senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for Delhi government, to ask Chief secretary to talk with centre government officials and sort out the problems in the national capital.

The Centre also gave a power point presentation before the bench and said that there is no shortage of medical oxygen in country and supply being augmented for COVID-19 relief.

There is enhanced production of oxygen in country from about 6,000 MT per day in August 2020 to 9,000 MT per day till date, the Centre said, adding that UP has installed GPS devices on its tankers carrying oxygen to ensure that vehicles are moving.

The hearing is currently underway.

The bench on April 22 took note of the pandemic situation due to sudden surge in COVID-19 cases as also in mortality and said it expected the Centre to come out with a national plan to deal with distribution of essential services and supplies, including oxygen and drugs.