This year has witnessed more than a few instances of internet services being suspended in several states such as Telangana, Haryana, and Rajasthan.
Internet services were restored in the Baran district of Rajasthan, a day after a curfew was imposed, and net connectivity was suspended following the murder of a teenage boy, Rajasthan Police confirmed to MediaNama.
At a time when the internet is such an intrinsic part of citizens’ lives, a shutdown in connectivity, either due to political reasons or as a measure to contain the after-effects of crime, causes a massive disruption and can be termed as a curb on freedom of expression. These issues have been debated heavily ever since communication services were suspended in Jammu and Kashmir on August 4, 2019, a day before the Indian Parliament abrogated Article 370 that gave special status to the state. 4G services were restored in parts of the Union Territory, nearly a year after it was suspended.
The incident: Azad, a resident of Shramik Colony in Talab Para area of Baran was allegedly killed on Saturday evening by a group over a year-old dispute, a PTI report said, adding that the police has named one Hemant Rathore as the prime accused in the case. A CCTV footage of the murder which showed a man raining blows and shooting at the apparently lifeless body of Azad in the middle of the day on a busy street was widely circulated on social media platforms. The police have dismissed any communal angle to the incident and maintained that it was due to personal enmity between a group of people.
After that, the district administration imposed a curfew under Section 144 of the CrPC and banned internet services for 24 hours till 3 am on Monday under the limits of Baran Municipal Council, the PTI report said.
Speaking to MediaNama, Superintendent of Police in Baran, Vineet Kumar Bansal, said “The internet was suspended as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of rumours. It is known that a lot of fake news is spread on social media platforms. The connectivity has since been restored in Baran.”
As many as three persons were arrested and cases under Section 302 were registered against them based on the complaint of the victim’s family.
Internet shutdowns: A look at previous occurrences
- In March, internet services were suspended in Bhainsa, a small town in northern Telangana, in the wake of communal clashes. Mobile internet was suspended in the town to prevent people from sharing any content that could aggravate the situation. The small town in Nirmal district, not far from the Maharasthra border, had last experienced an internet shutdown in January 2020 following similar communal clashes.
- The Union Home Ministry ordered telecom operators to shutdown internet services in Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur in January this year, for “maintaining public safety and averting public emergency”, amid the ongoing farmers’ protest. Internet was suspended in these areas from 11 PM on January 29 to 11 pm on January 31. Telecom sources confirmed to MediaNama, of having received the order from the Home Ministry.
- The Haryana government shut down internet and SMS services in multiple areas in the state after clashes erupted between farmers and law enforcement agencies in Delhi in January. The shutdown has been ordered in the districts of Sonipat, Palwal, and Jhajjar, and was in effect until 5 PM on January 27. The government claimed it was shutting down these services to curb misinformation about the clashes that could be spread via social media platforms or text messages.
- Internet services were suspended in multiple areas of the National Capital Territory on January 26 in the aftermath of the clashes that broke out between farmers (protesting against the recently enacted farm laws) and law enforcement agencies. The order, issued by the Home Ministry, said that internet services were suspended at Singhu, Ghazipur, Tikri, Mukarba Chowk, Nangloi, and “adjoining areas”.
- The Rajasthan government in November suspended mobile internet services in several parts of Jaipur district in wake of the ongoing Gujjar agitation. Mobile internet was shut down for 24 hours starting 5 pm on November 2 in the tehsils (blocks) of Kotputli, Paota, Shahpura, Viratnagar, and Jamwaramgarh, Phagi, Madhorajpura, Dudu, and Mojmabad. All internet services except for broadband were shut down.
- Rajasthan suspended internet in four districts — Dungarpur, Udaipur, Banswara, and Pratapgarh — in September 2020, after violent protests erupted in Dungarpur district, the Hindustan Times had reported. Hundreds of tribal youths reportedly blocked national highway No. 8 in Dungarpur, demanding that over 1,100 unreserved posts of government teachers be filled with ST candidates. Internet was suspended in the districts of Dungarpur, Udapur, Banswara, and Pratapgarh.
Internet shutdown rules were amended in November 2020
The Indian government amended the internet shutdown rules, formally known as the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, to restrict the validity of suspension orders to 15 days. The amendment was notified in the gazette on November 10. Any state or central home department — the only ones legally authorised to order internet suspensions — can now only suspend internet for a period of 15 days through an order.
This is in addition to the due process they must already follow, such as forming a review committee after a suspension and letting only the home secretary issue suspension orders. While the amendment is presumably aimed at preventing prolonged blackouts, such as the 7-month long internet shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir, administrations can still restrict internet access by simply reissuing orders every 15 days.
- IT Parliamentary Committee discussed internet shutdowns in Delhi, Bihar
- India signs G7 statement condemning “politically motivated internet shutdowns”
- Myanmar military blocks internet, social media amid protests against coup