In two separate incidents, mobile Internet services were blocked in multiple districts in Gujarat and in the industrial town of Bokaro in Jharkhand. The Indian Express reports that mobile Internet services were cut off in Mehsana, Ahmedabad, Surat and Rajkot following demonstrations by the Patel/Patidar community.
Meanwhile, in Bokaro, the Times of India reports that mobile Internet services were disrupted indefinitely following communal clashes during Ramnavami celebrations on Friday.
The Indian Express report however added that broadband and landline services were not disrupted. Note this is the fourth incident since September 2015. Earlier in February, Gujarat had shut down mobile Internet services for four hours to prevent cheating on phones during Revenue Accountants Recruitment Exam.
In September, the Gujarat government had banned mobile Internet usage for a week in the wake of the protests by the Patel community for reservation. The Gujarat government blocked mobile Internet services in Godhra again in September following derogatory messages against Islam which were circulated on WhatsApp.
Both the reports have not mentioned whether the bans enforced under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) that allows local law administration to ban unlawful assembly and justify short bans on Internet services. Section 144 of the CrPC can usually be invoked by a district magistrate or the collector.
Mobile internet services restored in Kashmir valley
Mobile Internet services were restored in Kashmir Valley on Monday, according to this Times of India report. Services were suspended since Wednesday after rumours of a girl being molested by an army jawan spread across the valley, leading to violence in Kashmir’s Handwara town. The girl clarified to the chief judicial magistrate that this was false.
We stated repeatedly that blanket bans on Internet services must should be the rarest exception and not the norm. However, in February, the Supreme Court had upheld the districts and states’ right to ban mobile Internet services to maintain law and order.
We had said that this would set a worrying precedent which could lead to more Internet bans. Our argument stands validated as there were three mobile Internet bans across the country.
Perhaps it is time for all Internet companies and telecom operators to raise the issue with the TRAI and seek specific legislation against blanket Internet bans.
Other Internet bans
– Earlier this month, State authorities in Haryana blocked mobile internet in certain districts after the Jat community’s protest asking for reservations turned violent.
– In December 2015, the Rajasthan police banned the usage of mobile internet for an indefinite period following communal clashes in the districts of Nagaur, Dungarpur, Udaipur, Bhilwara and other parts of the state. The police again invoked Section 144 of the CrPC.
– In September 2015 again, Jammu and Kashmir suspended Internet services for two days following apprehensions of violence in the state in light of the beef ban in the state.
– In Manipur, there was a shut down the mobile Internet services following three bills which were passed which would infringe on the rights of tribals in the state.