Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India
File Photo

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday warned against any coercive action against people sharing distressing information on the social media to seek medical help for their dear ones during the Covid surge.

"I flag this issue at the outset. We don't want any clamp down on information .... If citizens communicate their grievances on social media and internet, it can't be said it's wrong information," said Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud during a suo motu hearing.

"We will treat it as a contempt of court if such grievance is considered for action," said the Bench, which also included Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat.

(Last week, Twitter confirmed deletion of several tweets "in response to a legal request from the government". The posts were deleted for spreading misinformation on Covid, the government sources had said.)

The court on Friday was possibly referring to the UP government ordering strict action against those creating panic by making false appeals for help in not getting hospital beds, oxygen and essential medicines. In this backdrop, Justice Chandrachud said: "Let a strong message go to all the states and their DGPs (directors general of police) that clampdown on information is contrary to basic precepts."

Referring to the deluge of SOS messages on social media, the court insisted against any presumption that the grievances so raised by citizens are false.

"It is of grave concern to me as a citizen or (a) judge. If citizens communicate their grievances on social media, we do not want a clampdown on information. Let us hear their voices. We will treat this as contempt if any citizen is harassed, if they want bed or oxygen. We are in a human crisis," Justice Chandrachud said, noting the situation is so grim that even doctors and healthcare workers are not getting hospital beds.

On the government hoping to break the chain of the Coronavirus with the new phase of vaccination extended to all those 18 and above, the Bench again questioned the Centre over the pricing.

"Why is the government not buying 100 per cent of the doses being produced this time? Why should there be two prices for the Centre and the states... what is the rationale," the court asked and suggested that India must adhere to the national immunisation model followed since Independence.

"Pricing issue is extraordinarily serious. How will the poor and marginalised people find money to get vaccinated? Poor people will not be able to pay for coronavirus vaccines. What happens to the marginalised and SC/ST population? Should they be left to the mercy of private hospitals," it asked, suggesting provision of free vaccination to all citizens.

Telling the Centre that it has special responsibility towards citizens of Delhi as a national authority to provide oxygen, Justice Chandrachud asked: "Not only in Delhi, but also in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. What is the effect we are going to see today and in the next hearing? How much oxygen you are going to provide to these critical states?"

The Centre tried to wriggle out citing the huge logistic problem of transporting oxygen and Delhi government not having enough tankers to move oxygen fast to hospitals. It said virtual control rooms are operating 24x7 for the supply of oxygen. "If you are aware of the requirement of 700 metric tonnes to Delhi, why did you supply only 480 MT," the court shot back.

"Delhi represents micro problems of the country. Delhi represents people coming from other states. You must save lives, even if Delhi is unable to lift. The Centre has special responsibility towards Delhi," the court said.

In an off-the-cuff remark, a judge suggested opening hostels, temples and other religious places of worship as Covid care centres, since most hospitals are facing a bed crunch.

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