In what is yet another instance of Indian authorities restricting fundamental rights, the Uttar Pradesh government has ordered a shutdown of internet services in the Lakhimpur Kheri district. While the office of the Additional Chief Secretary in the Home Department confirmed the order to MediaNama, they did not provide details such as the extent of the services restricted, time period, and so on as the “order was passed at night”.
Last year, while hearing pleas that challenged curbs imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, the Supreme Court had declared that access to the internet is a fundamental right. It had further asked magistrates signing off on internet shutdown orders to ‘apply their mind’ and ‘follow the doctrine of proportionality’. 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.
Telecom operators notified customers last evening
MediaNama has learned that messages from telecom operators notifying customers of the internet shutdown were sent to those in the district on October 3, evening. This proves that mobile internet services have been restricted in the region.
However, it is not clear whether broadband services have also been restricted in the district, and if the internet services have been restricted for the entire district or only parts of it, as indicated by various media reports. At the time of filing this report, MediaNama could not find an order by the state government about the internet shutdown.
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 shutdowns as per the rules which also require due processes to be followed like forming 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 India
- 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.
- September also saw the Rajasthan government suspend internet and SMS services in 5 districts to curb cheating during the REET 2021 exams.
- In August, internet services were banned in Shillong and four adjoining districts of Sikkim after violence erupted in the state following the death of an alleged militant.
- In March, internet services were suspended in Bhainsa, a town in northern Telangana, in the wake of communal clashes.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs ordered telecom operators to shut down 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.
- Government Of India Issues Rules For Internet Shutdowns
- 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
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