Mobile internet and bulk SMS services were restored on the afternoon of December 5 in the Mon district of Nagaland after over 12 hours of shutdown, amidst violence in the area. The shutdown was enforced keeping in view firing incidents in the Tiru/Oting villages leading to a grave law and order situation, as per a Nagaland government notice that has been viewed by MediaNama.
Violence broke out between villagers and Indian security forces after the latter allegedly shot a group of civilians mistaking them to be insurgents, according to a report by India Today. The firing incident resulted in the deaths of 15 people, including a soldier, the report added.
India has often topped the list of internet shutdowns globally with a 2020 AccessNow report finding that 109 out of 155 net shutdowns worldwide, took place in the country. Access to the internet was recognised as a medium to exercise a citizen’s fundamental right by the Supreme Court of India in a judgement delivered last year, asking that restrictions be considered as an extraordinary measure.
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Details of the Nagaland internet shutdown
The order was passed late at night on December 4 and revoked at around 2:30 PM on December 5, Abhijit Sinha the State’s Principal Home Secretary told MediaNama. It was issued invoking Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 which lays down provisions for government agencies to intercept or seize licensed telegraphs.
In the order, Sinha said that “SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media platforms could be used for spreading or rumours, fake news, and for circulating inflammatory texts, pictures, videos, etc. which may inflame passions and exacerbate the law and order situation”.
Legal provisions related to internet shutdowns
MediaNama could not ascertain whether the shutdown order was made public through the Home department’s website as the site was inaccessible at the time of publishing, and Sinha did not respond to queries on this issue. Last year, the Supreme Court in its judgement in Bhasin v Union of India had laid down that government orders of internet shutdowns need to be placed in the public domain so that they can be challenged by the public. It had also asked magistrates signing off on internet shutdown orders to ‘apply their mind’ and ‘follow the doctrine of proportionality’.
The complete curb of the internet must be considered by the state only as an extraordinary measure. Any order that has been passed to restrict/suspend internet services shall be subject to judicial scrutiny. — Supreme Court of India
While internet shutdown orders are passed under the Indian Telegraph Act, the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017 lays down the conditions for it. According to the Rules, only the Home Secretary of the state (independently or under instruction from the Secretary under Ministry of Home Affairs) can order internet shutdowns in cases of public emergency, and an amendment to the rules, notified in November 2020, held that such orders can only be valid for 15 days at a time.
Recent internet shutdowns in India
- Maharashtra government imposed restrictions on mobile internet and SMS services in the Amravati district, after unrest in the area.
- Rajasthan government shut down the internet in various districts to curb cheating during the administrative services examination being held in the state in October.
- Kashmir saw restrictions on mobile internet services amidst civilian killings in October.
- Haryana government restricted mobile internet services in at least three districts of Haryana in view of the Kisan Mahapanchayat in Karnal in September.
- India signs G7 statement condemning “politically motivated internet shutdowns”
- We do not have data on internet shutdowns: Ministry Of Communications in Parliament
- Exam day sees internet services being suspended in Rajasthan yet again
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