The Internet was shut down in Jaipur in Rajasthan, for the weekend, from 6AM on Saturday to 11.59 PM on Sunday, “to check rumours from spreading”, following the instance of a traffic scuffle escalating to a conflict between police and citizens in an area, reports the Indian Express. The order has been issued by the district administration, as per the report. The Financial Express adds that the ban hasn’t been lifted in its entirety: it remains for 14 of 64 police stations.
According to the Internet Shutdown Tracker from the SFLC.in, there have been 5 other shutdowns in Rajasthan this year, taking the tally to 6 so far. Rajasthan has had the second highest number of Internet Shutdowns, at 13, followed by Haryana, at 10. The highest has been in Jammu & Kashmir, at 49 shutdowns so far. What’s also interesting is that of the 106 shutdowns listed on the site, none have been implemented south of Maharashtra.
1. Can the district administration still order an Internet shutdown? The shutdown was ordered by a district administration, according to the Indian Express report. According to our analysis of the rules, at the state government level, the Secretary to the State Government in-charge of the Home Department can issue an order in the case of a State Government. In unavoidable circumstances, this might be issued by Joint Secretary authorised by the State Home Secretary, subject to the review of the State Home Secretary within 24 hours. So, is the process being followed? Did they not get a copy of the notification? The Financial Express report cites the Divisional Commissioner Rajeshwar Singh as saying that the ban will continue in the 14 police stations till September 11th.
2. Area-specific banning: There appears to be a fair degree of specificity in shutting down Internet Access here. The fact that it was initially suspended in 64 police stations, and then reinstated in 50 suggests that there is a possibility of there not being a blanket ban on Internet access across cities or towns in the future, and bans can be more targeted. Two ways of looking at this:
- Greater specificity in Internet Shutdowns means that all don’t have to suffer. Internet Shutdowns, in general, are disproportionate punishments: if there is a localised problem, the shutdown can impact those who aren’t even in the same area as the curfew. Greater specificity, area-wise, can allow for a more localised approach when the situation demands it.
- Greater specificity also lends itself to reduced awareness of shutdowns: it’s when a large population is impacted that we tend to find out about shutdowns. The rules from the Indian Government, created without any public consultation, had no provisions for pro-active disclosures from the government.
This comes a few days after the Committee to Protect Journalists criticised the Indian government for sweeping rules regarding Internet Shutdowns, with Steven Butler, CPJ Asia program coordinator from Washington D.C. saying that “These blackouts amount to a severe form of censorship that deprives journalists of a key platform for gathering and disseminating news, and the country’s citizens of vital access to news and information.”
At our discussion on Internet Shutdowns last year, Subho Ray, president of industry association IAMAI, had said that “…if you’re giving an SP of a district 300 armed guards with the power to fire at people I don’t in principle believe that the guy doesn’t have the power to shut down the Internet in that district.” That’s a fair point, and there are no easy answers here.