In yet another ludicrous overcorrection, the Rajasthan government has shut down the internet to curb cheating during the administrative services examination being held in the state. Mukesh Pareek, Deputy Secretary (Security) of the state’s Home Department, confirmed to MediaNama that mobile internet services in various parts of the state will remain suspended from 9 am to 1 pm on October 27 in view of the exams.
Barring 3-4 districts, internet services have been restricted everywhere in Rajasthan, according to Pareek. However, MediaNama could not access the order for the shutdown nor was it found on the Rajasthan government’s websites at the time of publishing this report. Pareek also informed that Wi-Fi and SMS services were still operational.
Last year, while hearing pleas on internet restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, the Supreme Court declared that access to the internet is a fundamental right. It further asked magistrates signing off on internet shutdown orders to ‘apply their mind’ and ‘follow the doctrine of proportionality’.
Internet shutdowns on exam days may be Rajasthan’s new normal
Earlier this month, parts of Rajasthan saw two shutdowns owing to examinations. According to reports, a petition has been filed before the Rajasthan High Court on the matter saying that the shutdown caused inconvenience to others preparing for other exams and happened without advance notice.
On October 23 & 24: Internet was reportedly shut down in multiple districts – including Bikaner, Dausa, and Jaipur- for 12 hours during the Patwari recruitment exams
On September 26: Internet and SMS services were shut down in 16 districts, including Jaipur rural, Udaipur, Alwar, etc. during the REET 2021 examinations.
A response to an RTI filed by the Internet Freedom Foundation revealed that the Udaipur divisional commissioner has passed 26 internet shutdown orders between January 2020 and October 2021. Further, they cited threats to public safety through rumor-mongering, fake news, paper leaks, etc. on the date of the exam to enforce the shutdown in September.
What is the legal basis for all these Internet shutdowns?
Under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017, the basis for internet shutdowns (borrowed from the Indian Telegraph Act 1885) only includes cases of a public emergency or for public safety. Such interruption would be justified only in the interest of:
- The sovereignty and integrity of India
- Security of the state
- Friendly relations with foreign states
- Public order
- Preventing incitement to the commission of an offence
Further internet shutdown orders can only be valid for 15 days at a time and only the Secretary of the State (independently or under instruction from the Secretary under Ministry of Home Affairs) can order internet shutdowns as per the rules. These orders have to later be examined by a review committee after the internet suspension.
Last year, the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India laid down that state governments will also have to make orders regarding internet shutdowns publicly available.
Recent internet shutdowns in other parts of India
- Earlier this month, mobile internet services were restricted in parts of Kashmir, amidst minority killings.
- In September, internet services were restricted in Kashmir, after the death of a separatist leader.
- In the same month, mobile internet services including 4G were suspended in at least 3 districts of Haryana in view of the Kisan Mahapanchayat in Karnal.
- We do not have data on internet shutdowns: Ministry of Communications in Parliament
- India signs G7 statement condemning “politically motivated internet shutdowns”
- Editorial: There Needs To Be A Global Coalition For Tracking Internet Shutdowns
- Mobile internet services shut down in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district
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