The Bombay High Court on Wednesday ‘prima facie’ observed that the order issued by the Mumbai Police last week cracking whip on WhatsApp group admins and against fake content on social media was to genuinely protect the persons from false information during the COVID-19 pandemic and refused to pass an urgent direction in a plea challenging the circular.
A single judge bench of Justice Ravi K Deshpande on Wednesday heard through video conference a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by one Pankaj Rajmachikar, who challenged the Mumbai Police circular through advocate Sandeep Parikh and claimed that directions issued to prohibit persons from disseminating information through text messages and social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram among others be set aside.
However, Government pleader Purnima H Kantharia and advocate Kedar Dighe opposed the plea and said that the circular was justified. The Mumbai Police on April 10 had issued a circular warning against the dissemination of fake content on social media and said that administrators of social media platforms and groups would personally be held responsible for any fake information disseminated on their group.
The circular signed by Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Pranaya Ashok states that there is widespread dissemination of fake news, incorrect information over internet messaging and social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Tiktok, Instagram etc.
To prevent this the Mumbai Police has issued a prohibitory order under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) prohibiting dissemination of information through various messaging and social media platforms like WhatsApp.
The order stated that any content that is derogatory and discriminatory towards a particular community and which causes panic and confusion among the general public; or incites mistrust towards government functionaries and their actions taken in order to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus would be liable for prosecution.
After hearing submissions and perusing the circular, Justice Deshpande noted in the order, “Prima facie, the object of issuing the order seems to genuinely protect the persons from false and incorrect information being provided in respect of COVID-19 disease, which is spread all over.”
The Court further noted that it did not find urgency in the case and said that it will be heard in due course.
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