Justifying the Mumbai Police’s order that stipulates criminal action against anyone spreading false and fake information on social media, the Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court that reasonable restrictions can be imposed to safeguard public order.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Amjad Sayed was on Friday hearing two public interest litigations (PILs) challenging the legality of an order dated May 23, passed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations).
The order said that action would be taken against any person, who spreads incorrect, fake information on social media.
It further said that any person who holds the ‘Admin’ position of any social media group, shall be held personally liable for dissemination of any false or incorrect messages circulated in the group.
According to the petitions filed by advocate Sheshanath Mishra and independent journalist and co-founder of NGO ‘Free Speech Collective’ Geeta Seshu, the order violates the rights of citizens guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India (right to freedom of speech and expression).
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for the government, however, contended that the order is “perfectly” legal in view of Article 19(2) of the Constitution, which authorises the government to impose reasonable restrictions upon freedom of speech and expression in the interest of public order.
The court noted that the issue requires to be examined even though a plain reading of the order reveals that its validity is effective only till June 8, 2020 and directed the government to file an affidavit within three weeks.
The petition filed by Mishra claimed that the police order aims to muzzle the voice of common citizens and prevent them from criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Seshu’s counsel Mihir Desai argued that the police have not followed due procedure prescribed under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code.