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Farmers’ Protests: Internet shut down in parts of Haryana due to Kisan Mahapanchayat

Digital rights groups moved to condemn the government order that suspended internet services in several districts.

Mobile internet services including 4G were suspended in several districts of Haryana in view of the Kisan Mahapanchayat in Karnal that was organised to protest an incident wherein an IAS officer ordered police action against agitating farmers.

According to a Department of Home Affairs, Haryana Government order shared by news agency ANI, internet was suspended in Kurukshetra, Kaithal, and Jind districts from September 7 to September 9. MediaNama was able to confirm the development with Aatma Ram, DSP Shahabad (Kurukshetra Police) and Satish Kumar, DSP Panipat. Kumar said that internet services are expected to resume in the affected districts on September 10.

… in exercise of powers conferred upon me by virtue of Rule 2 of Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety ) Rules, 2017, 1, Secretary Home, Haryana do hereby order for the suspension of the mobile internet services (2G/3G/4G/CDMA/GPRS), all SMS services including bulk SMS (excluding banking & mobile recharge) and all dongle services etc. provided on mobile networks except the voice calls in district Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind & Panipat — order shared by ANI, and written by Additional Chief Secretary in Haryana government’s Home Department Balkar Singh

 

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‘Reasons’ cited by Haryana government for suspension of internet in the order

  • Chances of intensification of protest: Singh said that he was informed by the District Magistrate of Karnal that there was a chance of intensification of protest which may allegedly affect public safety and law and order situation in Karnal because of the Kisan Mahapanchayat.
  • Rumours may spread through internet: Singh alleged that there was a “potential of disruption of public utilities & safety, damage to public assets & amenities and law & order in adjoining districts of Karnal i.e. Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind & Panipat on account of misuse of internet services by way of spread of inflammatory material and false rumours, which are being/could be transmitted/circulated to the public through social media/ messaging services on mobile internet services, SMS services and other dongle services”.
  • Stopping vandalism: Singh claimed that misinformation may spread through social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Twitter, etc. on mobile phones and SMS, for facilitation and mobilisation of mobs of agitators and demonstrators who can cause serious loss of life and damage to public and private properties by indulging in arson or vandalism and other types of violent activities.

This order is issued to prevent any disturbance of peace and public order in the jurisdiction of district Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind & Panipat w.e.f. 00:00 hrs dated 07.09.2021 to 23:59 hrs dated 07.09.2021. This order is being passed ex-parte in view of the emergent situation as explained in earlier paragraphs. Any person found guilty of violation of aforesaid order will be liable for legal action under relevant provisions of law – Additional Chief Secretary Balkar Singh

Digital rights groups condemn internet shutdown

Software Freedom Law Center and Internet Freedom Foundation condemned the internet suspension and urged them to reconsider their decision and restore connectivity. SFLC.in wrote a letter to Harayana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar pointing out that the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017 – the law which allows internet suspension, mandates that it can only be ordered for “public safety or in public emergency in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India and security of the State…”

We would therefore like to request the State authorities to reconsider shutting down the internet. Internet shutdowns have a harrowing impact on citizens and are often disproportionate in nature. Internet shutdowns are bound to cause economic loss, and have an impact on education, healthcare and other welfare schemes. An internet shutdown during a pandemic can be especially grave considering that citizens depend on the internet to get information, work and study – Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director, SFLC.in

IFF, said that the justification provided by Haryana government to impose an internet shutdown was incompatible with the Anuradha Bhasin Guidelines. The Supreme Court in the Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India held that suspension of internet has to be necessary, unavoidable, and a drastic measure. SFLC.in too referred to this particular case in their letter to the Haryana government.

Internet shutdowns: A look at previous occurrences

  • On the intervening night of August 31 and September 1, internet was suspended in Kashmir following the death of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Officials reasoned that the internet was shut down as a precautionary measure.
  • In August, internet services in Shillong were suspended as incidences of violence were reported in the state following the death of a former militant.
  • 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 shut down internet services in Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur in January 2021, 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 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 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 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 districtsDungarpur, 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: India

Recently, the Ministry of Communications informed the Lok Sabha that the Indian government does not maintain data on internet shutdowns in the country since police and public order are subjects of the State.

Police and public order are State subjects as per seventh schedule of the Constitution and States are responsible and empowered to issue orders for temporary suspension of internet service to maintain law and order in the State or part thereof under the provisions contained in the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017. Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has informed that records pertaining to internet shutdowns ordered by States/UTs are not centrally maintained by MHA — Minister of State for Communications Devusinh Chauhan

Interestingly, the refusal to furnish data on internet shutdowns came just a few months after India signed a Group of Seven (G7) statement condemning among other things, “politically motivated internet shutdowns”, the Ministry of External Affairs had announced.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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