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District in Jharkhand faces 24 hour internet shutdown, daily lives of locals disrupted

Government order for suspending Internet in Hazaribagh was not made public, violating guidelines laid down by Supreme Court

Mobile broadband and fixed-line internet services have been restricted in the Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand for over 24 hours, MediaNama has learnt. While no official order has been made public, locals of the district told MediaNama that internet services have been disrupted since 4 or 5 am on February 7, when they received a message from their telecom service providers that internet services had been stopped on government orders.

“Koi kaaran nahi bataya gaya hai..Mei bhi jo kar raha hu online hi kaam hai mera,” (No reason has been given [for the shutdown]..my work is entirely online), M.D. Dadeer who runs a common service centre in the district told MediaNama. According to him, fixed line internet services (like broadband, narrowband connections) have also been restricted.

Another resident also confirmed the shutdown to MediaNama. “Phone pe payment nahi aaraha tha toh 4 grahak wapas chale gaye,” (4 of my customers went back because they couldn’t make payments from their phone), said Alok, a shopkeeper in the district. While the reason for the shutdown is not clear, repeated calls and texts to the Chief and Home Secretaries of the State to confirm the shutdown went unanswered.

In its 2020 judgement, the Supreme Court had held that internet was crucial as a medium to exercise fundamental rights of speech and expression or profession and trade guaranteed by the Constitution. It had also asked that restrictions on the same be undertaken keeping in mind proportionality, necessity, made public, etc.

‘Unofficial’ order for shutdown?

Sources working for a telecom service provider operating in the area said that the shutdown was done on government orders. Unofficial directions had been issued ordering the shutdown and that these would be lifted once directions for the same were issued, they added.

According to the locals, apart from Hazaribagh, internet was shut down in three other districts of Jharkhand as well. These are:

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  • Giridih
  • Chatra
  • Kodarma

What are the legal provisions for internet shutdowns?

Apart from exercising proportionality and making shutdown orders public, the SC had also ordered that shutdowns should not extend beyond the duration necessary. Subsequently, the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules passed in November 2020 laid down the following provisions in this regard:

  • Only the Secretary of the State (independently or under instruction from the Secretary under Ministry of Home Affairs) can order internet shutdowns.
  • 15 days of validity for such an order at a time
  • Formation of review committee after internet suspension

The most recent internet shutdowns in India

  • January 26, 2022: Mobile internet services were restricted across all districts of Kashmir; the reason for it was not declared.
  • January 13, 2022: Internet services were shutdown in Itanagar district, Arunachal Pradesh for 48 hours after a youth association declared a state-wide ‘Bandh’.
  • December 2021: Mobile internet and bulk SMS services were restored in the Mon district of Nagaland after over 12 hours of shutdown, amidst violence in the area
  • October 2021: The Uttar Pradesh government ordered a shutdown of internet services in the Lakhimpur Kheri and Sitapur districts, in the wake of violence that broke out during a farmers’ protest.
  • September 2021: Internet services were restricted in Kashmir, after the death of a separatist leader.
  • In the same month, Rajasthan government suspended internet and SMS services in 5 districts to curb cheating during the REET 2021 exams.

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama but, really, love all things tech policy. Always willing to chat with a reader! Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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