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Rajasthan orders its 26th internet shutdown in 2018; seconds J&K

Internet services were suspended in Rajasthan on August 5 on account of exams, just three weeks after a two-day internet shutdown in July to prevent cheating in police constable recruitment examinations. The police said the shutdown was ordered in response to the “organized cheating” witnessed in the in the Rajasthan State and Subordinate Services Combined Competitive Examinations (preliminary) in March 2018. The exam was subsequently scrapped. In the state capital of Jaipur, internet was suspended for four hours.

According to the Software Freedom Law Centre, Rajasthan has had 26 known internet shutdowns this year, second only to Jammu & Kashmir where internet has been suspended 35 times this year. Since 2012, Rajasthan has had 52 reported internet shutdowns in total. On July 14 and July 15, internet services were suspended in the entire state of Rajasthan to prevent cheating in constable recruitment exams. Most suspensions are ordered in J&K owing to the fragile political situation in the state. The SFLC runs a internet shutdown tracker based on news reports; there is a high likelihood that there are internet suspensions that are not reported and are oblivious to the larger public. The Rajasthan numbers are likely to be more accurate than that of other states, since SFLC was able to supplement those numbers with data received from the Rajasthan government under the RTI Act.

The Times of India, which reported the development, quoted an anonymous head of a telecom company as saying that the increasing number of shutdowns does not reflect a security situation but is a “manifestation of the government’s high-handedness.”

Internet shutdown rule challenged in Parliament

Internet shutdowns are ordered under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017, under the Telegraph Act. The rule enables state and central governments to order suspension of internet services “due to public emergency or public safety”. The rule was notified in August 2017; internet shutdowns have rapidly been increasing in the last two-three years. There were a total of 31 reported internet shutdowns in 2016 and 93 in 2018 already. The rule was challenged by Rajya Sabha MP Husain Dalwai on July 31 in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, which will last till August 10. Dalwai has called for annulment of the rule; it has to be admitted for discussion in the Rajya Sabha for it to be actually annulled.

Prior to this, the most recent reported internet shutdown took place in Arunachal Pradesh on July 29; internet services were terminated intermittently throughout the day to prevent cheating in the state public service commission examinations. In Manipur, internet services were terminated for five days following confrontation between civilians, members of Manipur University Students’ Union and the police. On July 25, internet was banned in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district and adjoining areas after an encounter broke out between the Army and militants, according to Brighter Kashmir.

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