The Mumbai Police's order on May 23, prohibiting the circulation of fake news and content "derogatory and discriminatory towards a particular community" or "causing panic and confusion among general public", has started a political war of words in Maharashtra.
The order states that those people designated as "Admin" on messaging and social media platforms "shall be personally responsible for any such information being disseminated from a group administered by them".
It also prohibits any person from "inciting mistrust towards government functionaries and their actions taken in order to prevent spread of the COVID- 19 virus and thereby causing danger to human health or safety or a disturbance to the public tranquillity". It will remain effective till June 8.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's Mangal Prabhat Lodha has now filed a petition in Bombay High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the order.
In the petition, Lodha has said the order is "so vague there are no guidelines for authorities on its implementation and is creating panic and an unjustified and harsh gagging effect on freedom of speech".
"This order is absolutely wrong. It is exactly like the Emergency period," Lodha, who is BJP's Mumbai president, told Moneycontrol, adding that he has sought an urgent hearing of the matter.
One of the party's Mumbai spokespersons, Suresh Nakhua, also said on Twitter that the order is a "gag order" and that "Emergency is in DNA of Congress and its allies".
"That is a misinterpretation on the part of whoever is saying this is a gag order. For the record, a similar order was issued in April. How is it a gag order if the police is prohibiting the spread of fake news? Moreover, we have been releasing updates regarding the actions taken by the cyber cell every couple of days," a senior police official, who did not wish to be named, told Moneycontrol when asked about the implementation of the order, adding that there is "nothing vague" in it.
A leader from the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in Maharashtra— comprising Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — said this is simply the BJP's "tactic to continue their efforts in trying to trouble the government".
"Simply speaking, the BJP is desperate now. It has started its efforts to topple the government in Maharashtra, and this is just one of its many tactics," the leader said, adding that the saffron party is "trying to create the prefect atmosphere" for toppling the Uddhav Thackeray-led government.
Mumbai is the worst-affected city in the country, with over 32,000 COVID-19 cases being reported from the financial capital of India till May 26.