No clampdown on citizens seeking COVID-related help online: SC
The Supreme Court on Friday said that there shall be no clampdown on citizens communicating their grievances related to COVID-19 on social media. The apex court was hearing a suo motu case on the management of the COVID-19 outbreak in India. The court also pulled up the Centre for differential pricing of vaccines and called for medical professionals to be paid more.
Grievances cannot be dismissed as 'wrong information,' says SC
A bench led by Justice DR Chandrachud and comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat was hearing the suo motu case. The bench said that citizens' grievances communicated online cannot be dismissed as "wrong information" and the same must not be suppressed. Let a strong message go to all states and the Director-Generals of Police (DGPs) of all states, Justice Chandrachud said.
'Action against such grievances will be contempt of court'
According to Bar and Bench, Justice Chandrachud said, "I flag this issue at the outset. We want to make it very clear that if citizens communicate their grievance on social media and internet then it cannot be said it's wrong information." "We don't want any clampdown of information. We will treat it as a contempt of court if such grievances are considered for action."
Recently, UP government ordered action against those spreading 'rumors'
The court's statement comes as the Uttar Pradesh government ordered that strict civil and criminal action will be initiated against those making false appeals on social media seeking help for COVID-19. UP is India's most populous state where infections are rising at an alarming rate, overwhelming hospitals, mortuaries, and crematoriums. The Centre had also directed Twitter to remove tweets spreading "fake news" on COVID-19.
Punjab-Haryana HC praises use of social media for support
Amid the crisis, several people are using social media to seek and extend support regarding COVID-19. Recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had appreciated the use of social media for extending urgent medical support. However, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had said there is no shortage of oxygen in the state, threatening action under the National Security Act against those "spreading rumors."
Amethi youth booked for 'false' SOS on Twitter
The Amethi Police in UP also booked a youth on Tuesday for posting an appeal on Twitter seeking oxygen for his grandfather, not mentioning COVID-19. The police said an inquiry found the information to be false, adding that the accused was released with a warning.
'Pay medical professionals more; calling them COVID warriors not enough'
According to LiveLaw, Justice Bhat said, "Medical professionals are reaching a breaking point. We cannot just say they are 'COVID Warriors'. Look at how nurses are dying. They play a vital role. It's time we speak about them and express gratitude." Justice Bhat then asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to use his powers to ensure that medical professionals doing more work are paid more.
SC flags issue of differential pricing of vaccines
The bench also flagged the issue of differential pricing of COVID-19 vaccines. Notably, vaccine manufacturers are charging more to state governments and private facilities compared to the Centre. "Why should we as a nation pay this?" Justice Bhat said asking the SG to look into the matter. AstraZeneca is providing vaccines at a far lower price to US citizens, the judge said.
'Vaccine manufacturing funded publicly; vaccines are public goods'
Justice Chandrachud asked the Centre to follow a "national immunization policy" asking the government to ensure equity. The court suggested that the Centre procure 100% of the doses from manufacturers and ensure equitable disbursement. "Don't leave it to the manufacturers. How will they determine equity?" the court reportedly said. Vaccine manufacturing is publicly funded and hence, the vaccines are public goods, it said.
Court flags concerns of equitable vaccine distribution among disenfranchised populations
Further, the court asked the Centre how it planned to ensure equitable distribution among disenfranchised and illiterate populations considering that Co-WIN app registration is mandatory. Justice Chandrachud also flagged concerns about the exclusion of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes from the vaccination drive.