Gujarat had shut down mobile Internet services for four hours yesterday morning to prevent cheating on phones during Revenue Accountants Recruitment Exam, reports the Times of India.
This is the third time Gujarat has blocked mobile Internet services since September 2015. 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.
The Times of India report said that the block was signed by the additional district magistrate AB Gor and the notification read that Internet services was shut down considering the sensitive nature of the exam. Ahmedabad collector Rajkumar Beniwal said the internet ban was necessary to avoid irregularities such as the 2015 leak of the exam paper.
Generally, mobile Internet bans are 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.
The mobile Internet ban in this case is absolutely unjustified. Section 144 is usually invoked to control the law and order situation. In the case of the Patel agitations and the incident in Godhra, there was a situation where violence could erupt. Where is the law and order situation in conducting an examination?
That said, the Supreme Court’s order of leaving mobile Internet bans up to the discretion of local administration to maintain “law and order” is worrying. It sets a precedent for more mobile Internet bans in the country where administrations could call for a ban on services for arbitraty reasons. Blanket bans on the mobile Internet should be the rarest exception and not the norm.
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.
There is economic incentive to fight against this as well. In September 2015, it was reported businesses in Gujarat were unable to file their income tax returns for the financial year 2014-15 with the suspension of Internet services. At the same time the telecom industry in Gujarat was estimated to have suffered a loss of about Rs 4.5-5 crore per day following the security measures, the Times of India reported. Banks were hit worse as lenders suffered losses of over Rs 7000 crore as the shut down hugely impacted services such as net and mobile banking, as indicated by this report.
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.