The Congress party worker spread fake news that medical professionals in Assam did not have Personal Protection Equipment and were using plastic bags instead.
One Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti, who Swarajya exposed to be a full-time Congress worker and not a current treating doctor at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS)-Delhi as claimed, posted false information related to Coronavirus pandemic on his Twitter profile yesterday — triggering a spate of fake news and a wave of panic.
His post carried the photograph of a person wrapped in plastic bags. Bhatti said the photograph was of a healthcare worker in Assam Medical College, and the plastic bags are the ones that are used for carrying biomedical waste.
“Pathetic situation. Healthcare workers in Assam Medical College Are forced to cover themselves with plastic bags which are used to carry biomedical waste bcz of lack of personal protection equipments. Can PM @narendramodi take this issue seriously & provide #PPEsBeforeApplause,” his post said.
The post, that was retweeted over 3,000 times, caused panic as was obvious in comments as well as a triggered spate of misinformation by influential Twitter handles. Many of them were journalists.
Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sharma responded to the post by calling it “highly motivated”.
“This tweet is highly motivated and some one must be doing purposefully. We have supplied good number of PPE kits in last 3 days. Police has been asked to register an FIR and investigate. I have personally in touch with hospital authorities (sic),” Sarma tweeted.
This tweet is highly motivated and some one must be doing purposefully. We have supplied good number of PPE kits in last 3 days. Police has been asked to register an FIR and investigate . I have personally in touch with hospital authorities https://t.co/c0xVRN5Y2G— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) March 23, 2020
A journalist with Indian Express said, “Top district official of Dibrugarh tells me this is fake”.
Bhatti deleted the post shortly later. He then posted another tweet that seemed to be a clarification, but carried no apology for the earlier one.
He posted the same image, saying, “I received calls from Assam Medical College that they have PPEs this was tested as what can be used if shortage occurred in case of huge load of patients.”
Among those that endorsed Bhatti’s misinformation were journalists Vinod Kapri, Vijaita and Rohini Singh.
Swarajya first reported about Bhatti in January where we revealed that he is not a treating doctor at AIIMS, as claimed in several media reports that have been, curiously, endorsed by him.
He, however, is a former doctor of AIIMS and was president of the Resident Doctors’ Association at AIIMS-Delhi. Bhatti was in the Geriatric department, which caters to elderly patients.
In a 6 January report, journalist Barkha Dutt introduced him as “first official word” and “first official medical response” on injuries in JNU violence after they were taken to AIIMS trauma centre, for a report done by her venture Mojo Story.
Bhatti retweeted Barkha’s tweets introducing him in this manner.
He was also quoted by a website, Newslaundry.com, as saying that injuries sustained by ABVP students in JNU were “superficial”.
The website introduced him as “Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti at AIIMS” and quoted him as saying that “medically speaking, the injuries their activists allegedly sustained looked superficial”.
“Their” refers to ABVP as stated in the report.
When Swarajya contacted AIIMS, we learnt that Bhatti is not employed with AIIMS and is not authorised to speak to the media on behalf of the institute.
A reliable authority at the institute said that Bhatti was currently not employed with the medical institute. He was part of the institute a few years ago in the geriatrics department, and was indeed the president of the Resident Doctors’ Association at AIIMS at that time, the authority said.
“He is not a treating doctor here,” the person at AIIMS said.
Bhatti is a full-time member of the Congress party — an affliction that neither Mojo Story nor Newslaundry.com revealed in their reports.
Congratulations Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti has been appointed as a national convener and doctors who have been appointed the State Coordinators of the All India Medical Cell.— Youth Congress (@IYC) February 15, 2019
We are confident you will help the people of our nation to the best of your abilities. pic.twitter.com/TGB0OSYr20
A post dated 15 February 2019 put out by verified Twitter handle of Youth Congress announced Bhatti as joining the party.
A look at Bhatti’s social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook suggests he has been mobilising crowds to hit streets against the recently enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).