New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ordered the Center and States to notify their chief secretaries and police chiefs that any crackdown on information on social media or harassment of people seeking help on any platform related to COVID- 19 would result in coercive action.

In these “difficult times”, those who desperately seek help for their loved ones on these platforms should not see their misery compounded by the actions of the state and its instruments, the Supreme Court said.

He said he was “deeply distressed” to find that people seeking help on such platforms have been targeted, alleging that the information published by them was false and posted on social media to sow justice. panic, defame the administration or damage the “national image”. .

A bench led by Judge DY Chandrachud said such targeting of individuals should not be tolerated, and the Center and state governments should ensure that they immediately cease direct or indirect threats of prosecution and d arrest against citizens who express grievances or those who try to help another. citizens receive medical assistance.

The Supreme Court, in a 64-page order uploaded to its site on Sunday evening, said that if this continues to happen even after the current order, it would be forced to use the powers it has under its jurisdiction to contempt.

“Central government and state governments will notify all Chief Secretaries / Directors General of Police / Police Commissioners that any crackdown on social media information or harassment caused to people seeking / providing assistance on any platform will result in a coercive exercise of Search skill.

“The (Judicial) Registrar is also responsible for filing a copy of this order before all district magistrates in the country,” said the bench, which also includes judges L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.

The high court said that the crackdown on information sharing must be absolutely stopped immediately because information sharing widely is in itself an important tool in the fight against public tragedies and it will help to create a ” collective public memory “of this pandemic.

“As such, preventing crackdowns on information sharing on online platforms is not only in the interest of the individuals sharing the information, but in the larger democratic structures of our nation. Without the immediate availability of this information, it is entirely possible that the COVID- Pandemic may turn into a tragedy worse than it already is, ”said the bench.

The bench also referred to its judgment on the right to privacy and said: “The academic literature documenting the widespread availability of information and the recognition of the resulting problem is what has prevented the drought in the Maharashtra in 1973 to become as bad as the Bengal Famine of 1943, where the British tried to deny that the problem even existed.

The Supreme Court has said that the widespread sharing of information by people living through the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial and the role of the courts in creating and preserving this collective public memory cannot be underestimated.

“Therefore, in the context of this proceeding, we hope not only to initiate a dialogue in order to better combat the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also to preserve its memory in our public records, so that future generations can evaluate our efforts and learn from them. , “It said.

Instructions were passed on in a suo motu case to ensure essential supplies and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bench addressed issues such as the projected demand for oxygen in the country now and in the near future, how the government intends to allocate it to “severely affected” states and its oversight mechanism to ensure supply.

The Supreme Court had previously clarified that any attempt to suppress the free flow of information on social media, including a cry for help from people, would be considered contempt of court.

“There should be a free flow of information; we should hear the voice of the citizens. This is a national crisis. There should be no presumption that the grievances raised on the Internet are always false. a strong message be sent to all DGP: there should be no kind of repression, ”said the bench, reserving its order on April 30.

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