Four other districts in the state also joined Shillong in having internet services suspended; despite increasing numbers, the government had claimed that it had no data on internet shutdowns.
A ban on internet services in Shillong was extended for the third consecutive day yesterday according to a press release issued by the Chief Minister’s Office of Meghalaya as reports emerge of violence in the state following the death of a former militant.
India has had the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world, with 109 out of 155 net shutdowns worldwide in 2020, according to a report by Access Now. Last year, hearing pleas challenging curbs imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370, the Supreme Court had declared access to the internet a fundamental right. It had further asked magistrates signing off on such restrictions to ‘apply their mind’ and ‘follow doctrine of proportionality’.
What the internet shutdown notification says
While the ban was extended for Shillong on August 15, the Meghalaya Home Department issued a notification restricting mobile internet for four other districts in the state. The notification cited reports received from the police headquarters of vandalism and arson.
In the notification, viewed by MediaNama, Secretary of the Home (Police) Department C.V.D Diengdoh Secretary said, “Messaging systems like WhatsApp and SMS, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are likely to be used for transmission of information through pictures, texts, and videos and have the potential to cause serious breakdown of law & order.”
These districts, which adjoin the state capital Shillong, are-
- East Khasi Hills
- West Khasi Hills
- South West Khasi Hills
- Ri-Bhoi districts
Laws governing internet shutdowns
According to an amendment to the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules passed in November 2020, Internet shutdown orders can only be valid for 15 days at a time. Only the Secretary of the State independently or under instruction from the Secretary under Ministry of Home Affairs can order internet suspensions under the rules, which also require due processes like forming a review committee after a suspension to be followed.
Internet shutdowns: A look at previous occurrences
- In March, internet services were suspended in Bhainsa, a 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 Ministry of Home Affairs ordered telecom operators to shutdown internet services in Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur in January this year, for “maintaining public safety and averting public emergency” amid the 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 shutdown 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 was 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 proposed 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 2020 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 at 5 pm on November 2 in the tehsils (blocks) of Kotputli, Paota, Shahpura, Viratnagar, Jamwaramgarh, Phagi, Madhorajpura, Dudu, and Mojmabad. All internet services except for broadband services 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.
- We do not have data on internet shutdowns: Ministry of Communications in Parliament
- IT Parliamentary Committee discussed internet shutdowns in Delhi, Bihar
- India signs G7 statement condemning “politically motivated internet shutdowns”
Have something to add? Subscribe to MediaNama and post your comment