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‘Hooghly district magistrate is at level of additional secretary, can order internet shutdown,’ West Bengal govt in Calcutta HC

In a special sitting on May 16, the West Bengal government — via its Advocate General — argued that all procedural safeguards under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Rules, 2017, were followed in ordering the 5-day internet shutdown (May 12-17) in parts of Hooghly district. The state government was arguing in response to a petition filed by SFLC.in in the Calcutta High Court which asked for quashing the internet shutdown. The government said that the Hooghly district magistrate had the authority to pass the order, since he is at the rank of an additional secretary. Under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Rules 2017, a state-level shutdown can be ordered only by the secretary of the state home department. SFLC.in, a Delhi-based digital rights organisation, refuted this and will now file a counter-statement. The Advocate General also assured the court that the internet shutdown would not be extended. He submitted that the review committee meeting will be held as per the Anuradha Bhasin judgment. The Advocate General will also filed an affidavit replying to SFLC.in's arguments. The case is now listed for May 22. On May 12, the district magistrate of Hooghly suspended the internet for 5 days in Serampore and Chandennagore subdivisions, after communal tension broke out in Sheteshwar city (in Hooghly district). Internet was suspended at 2:30 pm on May 12 until 5 pm on May 17, amidst a nationwide lockdown and widespread disruption due to the pandemic, after communal clashes broke out in those areas when some people crossed over containment zone limits to use…

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