Plea in Allahabad HC against UP govt threat of action against those appealing for COVID help on social media
UP CM Yogi Adityanath had asked state administration to invoke the stringent National Security Act, 1980 against ‘people spreading rumours and trying to spoil the atmosphere’, the plea said
A letter petition was moved before Allahabad High Court on Wednesday seeking urgent directions to the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government to cease taking civil or criminal action against COVID-19 patients, their families or independent volunteers who issue appeals via social media platforms for oxygen and other medical assistance.
The plea by activist Saket Gokhale said that the patients and their families who appeal for help citing shortage in oxygen and drugs are being charged under the "false pretext" that they are spreading misleading information to target the state government.
Such a move by the UP government when a COVID patient is in a critical condition or dying, is against the fundamental right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it says, as per a report carried by Bar & Bench.
"Filing criminal cases against families of critical patients issuing SOS calls for oxygen on social media is a gross misuse of the powers of the state and is illegal coercive action that is being taken to “maintain the image of the government” and to clamp down on any criticism of their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and to present a fake picture that everything is hunky dory in the state," the letter petition said.
The petitioner pointed out that the Allahabad High Court itself had taken suo motu cognizance of the state's handing of COVID crisis including shortage of medical oxygen and essential COVID-19 medicines like Remdesivir.
Volunteers and users of social media accounts had been amplifying SOS requests by patients and their families for oxygen, drugs and availability of beds, the plea stated.
This volunteer-citizen effort and co-ordination greatly assisted in releasing some burden off the government authorities and helped numerous patients in getting oxygen/ medicines/ hospital beds and saving their lives.
Gokhale's plea referred to a virtual press conference held by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in which he insisted that there was no shortage of oxygen in public or private COVID hospitals in UP.
The CM also directed the state administration to invoke the stringent National Security Act, 1980 against “people spreading rumours and trying to spoil the atmosphere” and directed that the properties of such people should be seized.
He even said that “Due to such people, fear is increasing among the public. Even those who don’t need it, are worried about oxygen cylinders.”
The declaration by the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to invoke the National Security Act, 1980 against patients and their families appealing for oxygen leads on social media has struck a massive fear into the hearts of ordinary citizens in UP, the plea said.
"There can be no greater and illegal violation by the state (Respondent) in depriving people of their fundamental rights to life as well as free expression on the frivolous grounds that 'it portrays a negative impression of the Govt of Uttar Pradesh'," the plea stated.
Gokhale also highlighted how the state authorities have already begun acting on the directions of CM by taking illegal coercive action as well as threatening families of COVID-19 patients who might be facing an oxygen shortage "which is a matter of life and death for their loved ones".
"Issue an appropriate writ ordering the Respondent to immediately cease and desist from taking coercive action against Covid-19 patients and their families who are appealing for leads to medical oxygen and life saving medicines as well as against independent volunteers who are helping COVID-19 patients and their families by collecting information on oxygen and medicine availability on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and any other such mediums," Gokhale prayed.
Meanwhile, a man from Amethi has been booked for allegedly circulating a 'rumour' with the intent to cause 'fear' over oxygen supply, as per an IANS report. The man, Shashank Yadav, had appealed for an oxygen cylinder for his grandfather on Twitter. In his tweet, Yadav had not mentioned whether his grandfather had COVID-19. His grandfather later died of a heart attack. Yadav had sent an SOS on Monday evening tagging actor Sonu Sood, asking for his help.