Bihar Police replies to RTI activist over legality of social media gag order, says norms only ‘informatory’ and in compliance with law

Published : February 02, 2021 18:14 IST

A file photograph of Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister and responsible for the State's Home Department. Photo: PTI

Replying to a notice filed by RTI and transparency activist Saket Gokhale, the Bihar Police said their order to take action against those putting ‘objectionable’ content on social media against government officials and Ministers was only “information”. Gokhale had written to them after they decided to treat the said social media content as cybercrime and prosecute those accused of it.

Stating that the police had “no germane reason to withdraw the communication”, the reply, signed by the Superintendent of Police of Bihar Police’s Economic Offences Unit (EOU), said the order was communicated to focus on the “awareness aspect instead of curbing criticism against the government etc. The same is your apprehension based virtually on no material at all.”

Further, the EOU stated that objectionable posts and comments online against officials were also offences and the communication noted how for these the unit could be apprised to enable an enquiry as per the law. Claiming that Gokhale’s mailed notice was written “in undue haste”, it said the order was not violative of constitutional or statutory provisions. The EOU added that action would only be taken after receiving a “detailed enquiry” and “credible complaint with supporting documents”.

The unit said in its reply that free speech “cannot be used for abusing or defaming or maligning… Right to criticise a person should also be used for public benefit.”

Gokhale posted the EOU's reply letter on his Twitter account and termed the response a ‘U-turn’. He tweeted that through their “awareness letter”, the Bihar Police and the Nitish Kumar government had “gone on the backfoot and admitted in writing that there’s no new order criminalising criticism of public servants or the government.”