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Police efforts to curb misinformation on WhatsApp, Social Media amid COVID-19 Pandemic appear genuine: Bombay HC

The Court was dealing with a PIL challenging clauses in an order issued by the Police under Section 144, CrPC prohibiting the dissemination of false/distorted, discriminatory or derogatory information concerning COVID-19

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The Bombay High Court on Wednesday noted that the order issued by the Maharashtra Police banning the dissemination of false/distorted information on WhatsApp and other social media platforms amid the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be genuine and in public interest (Pankaj Rajmachikar vs. State of Maharashtra).

While declining to take up a PIL filed on the issue on an urgent basis, Justice RK Deshpande observed,

"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. "
Bombay High Court

The order in question was issued by the the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) on April 10, under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In particular, paragraph 4 of the order prohibited any person or group of persons from:

  • dissemination of information through various messaging and social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, Tiktok, Instagram etc. and found to be incorrect and distorting facts; or

  • derogatory and discriminatory towards a particular community;

  • causing panic and confusion among the general public;

  • inciting mistrust towards government functionaries and their actions taken in order to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus and thereby causing danger to human health or safety or a disturbance of the public tranquillity.

The order further fixed the responsibility for reporting such messages on the admins of the WhatsApp group or the social media platform on which such information is posted. On failure to do so, the admins would also be be held personally liable for such messages.

Read the prohibitory order here:

AdminOrder.pdf
Preview

The plea before the Bombay High Court had posed a challenge to these directions in paragraph 4.

However, apart from opining that the measure seemed to be part of genuine efforts to crack down on fake news, Justice Deshpande also added that there was no urgency involved. Therefore, the Court directed that the matter be taken up in regular course instead.

[Read the Bombay High Court order]

Pankaj Rajmachikar vs. State of Maharashtra - Bombay HC order.pdf
Preview
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