The Mumbai police on Saturday, May 23, issued an order prohibiting anyone from disseminating or sharing incorrect information about COVID 19 or government's response to it, failing which strict punitive measures will be taken against the person sharing the info.
Mumbai police in its order said that any incorrect, derogatory or discriminatory COVID 19 related information that could cause panic among general public or mistrust against government functionaries should not be shared on any messaging or social media platforms like WhatsApp Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The order reads, "it has been observed that there is widespread dissemination of fake news, incorrect information, misinformation and other such objectionable content in the form of messages, videos (both edited and self-created), image or memes, audio clips and other such forms of communication over internet messaging and social media platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram etc. Such type of content has been found to have caused panic, confusion among the general public, inciting mistrust towards government functionaries and their actions taken to control the COVID 19 pandemic and also to have created animosity towards various communities."
'Prohibitory order to control fake news'
Saying this order is aimed at reducing such incidents, Mumbai police said that any dissemination of wrong information about coronavirus pandemic or action taken by government machinery against it would warrant punishment for the person designated "Admin" on the messaging app or social media platforms.
"It shall be the personal responsibility of all persons designed as Admin on messaging and social media platforms to report any such malicious, incorrect or derogatory content posted by a member of the group to the police immediately," reads the order.
BJP challenges order's constitutional validity
Opposition BJP criticized the order issued by the Mumbai police. Party's spokesperson Suresh Nakhua equated the order with a gag order and said, "Emergency is in DNA of Congress and its allies."
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Another party leader, Mangal Prabhat Lodha has filed a petition in the Bombay high court challenging the validity of the order.
In his petition, Lodha said the order is "so vague there are no guidelines for authorities on its implementation and is creating panic and an unjustified and harsh gagging effect on freedom of speech," reported Moneycontrol.
Mounting criticism of Uddhav Thackrey government
The development can be seen in the light of mounting criticism of the Uddhav Thackeray government in its handling of the coronavirus cases in the state.
As Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country ever since the case of coronavirus began to surge, BJP has been adamantly criticizing the Maharashtra government for its handling the coronavirus pandemic in the state. As of on Thursday, May 28, there were 52,667 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state with 1,695 related deaths.
Former chief minister Devender Fadnvis on many occasions demanded CM Uddhav Thackeray's resignation on account of the high number of coronavirus cases in the state.
The opposition party also proposed imposing President's rule in Maharashtra citing state government inefficiency in handling COVID 19 cases.
A senior official from the Mumbai police refuted the criticism of the order being "vague".
"That is a misinterpretation on the part of whoever is saying this is a gag order. For the record, a similar order was issued in April. How is it a gag order if the police are prohibiting the spread of fake news? Moreover, we have been releasing updates regarding the actions taken by the cyber cell every couple of days," a senior police official told it to Moneycontrol. He wished not to be named.
The prohibitory order will remain in place June 8 until further notice issued otherwise, according to the statement issued by the Mumbai police.