The Rajasthan state government set up only 11 review committees for 40 internet shutdowns ordered between July last year upto May 2018. This was revealed in an RTI filed by the Software Law Freedom Centre (SFLC). There were no review meetings for why the other 29 internet bans were ordered in the state, violating the internet shutdown rules which provide that such a committee should be convened within 5 days of each shutdown.
The Rajasthan State Home Department further refused to disclose the minutes of meeting of 5 out of these 11 review committees. In the rest of the 6 instances of internet bans, the state found the bans appropriate for prevailing circumstances to maintain law and order, and keep public safety and harmony.
Rule (6) of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.
(6) The Review Committee shall meet within five working days of issue of directions for suspension of services due to public emergency or public safety and record its findings whether the directions issued under sub-rule (1) are in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 5 of the said Act.
Note that the government initially denied this information calling it classified information relating to national security. On an appeal filed by the SFLC, the state government failed to give a “satisfactory reply (to) for refusal to grant the information sought” and “vaguely rejected the appeal by giving unsubstantiated reasons.” On the second appeal, the State Information Commission of Rajasthan dismissed the Rajasthan government’s claim and demanded that information sought be disclosed. A copy of the response is here.
Internet bans in Rajasthan have been on the upward
- Rajasthan has had 30 internet shutdowns this year, much higher than the 19 shutdowns in 2017.
- For context, the state has had 26 known cases of shutdowns for three years from 2015 to 2017, a number still lower than the 30 shutdowns this year alone.
- Rajasthan has shut the internet down the most, after Jammu & Kashmir, which banned it 61 times in 2018 so far.
Refer to SFLC’s internet shutdowns tracker here.
MPs call for review of internet ban rules
- Last week, Congress Lok Sabha MP Dr Shashi Tharoor urged the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation to review the internet shutdowns rules. He reasoned that internet shutdowns burden the economy, curb free speech, and are counterproductive in tense situations.
- In August, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Hussain Dalwai called for an annulment of the internet shutdowns rules.
How many shutdowns in 2018?
There have been 130 reported internet shutdowns in India in 2018 according to SFLC’s internet shutdowns tracker. This is much higher than the 79 shutdowns in 2017, and 31 shutdowns in 2016. In September, India crossed 100 shutdowns in just this year. Note that the internet shutdown rules were passed in August 2017.
Our internet shutdowns coverage.