The President of Mumbai Unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party has filed a writ petition before the Bombay High Court challenging the order passed by DCP (Operations) and Executive Magistrate, Greater Mumbai dated May 23 making group admins personally responsible for any fake news or misinformation disseminated via social media platforms like Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram etc in order to protect people from fake news or incorrect information about Covid-19.
Mangal Prabhat Lodha, who is a sitting MLA from Malabar Hill and founder of the Mumbai based Lodha Group contended that the Mumbai Police has issued the order in 'hot haste' and called it "arbitrary, unreasonable, colorable exercise of the power to curb fundamental rights of a citizen already reeling under the adverse effects of the pandemic of Covid-19."
The PIL that has been filed through Advocate Hitesh Jain of Parinam Law Associates states-
"The impugned order is vague and broadly worded. It is trite law that an order passed by the Executive Magistrate in exercise of powers under Section 144 of CrPC ought to be against specific persons not the general public. However, the text of the impugned order makes no such distinction. Further, any restriction imposed upon rights enshrined under Article 19(2) of the Constitution ought to be 'reasonable' and cannot be in the nature of blanket restriction."
The petitioner goes on to state that the general public is not satisfied with the Maharashtra government's response in curbing the pandemic of Covid-19 citing the rising number of cases in the State which already has the highest number of cases in the country. Moreover, the Mumbai police order has been passed in order to prevent people from criticizing the state government's inaction during the current situation, the PIL states.
Mumbai Police has been issuing and re-issuing the same order since April. The May 23 order which is valid till June 8, states-
"There is widespread dissemination of fake news, incorrect information , misinformation and other objectionable content in the form of messages, videos, images, memes, audio clips etc (both edited and self-created) over social media platforms like Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram etc. Such type of content has been found to have caused panic and 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."
The petitioner also contends that the impugned order fails the test of proportionality upheld by the High Court in the case of KS Puttuswamy vs Union of India.
Thus, the PIL seeks directions to set aside the order passed by Mumbai police as unconstitutional being violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
Previously, the same prohibitory order issued by the Mumbai Police on April 10 was challenged by one Pankaj Rajmachikar before the High Court. Justice RK Deshpande had refused to interfere and observed that prima facie the said order has been passed with the objective of protecting people from false or incorrect information about Covid-19.
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