“We are facing a lot of difficulties. We are not able to do any sort of online payment, bank transaction. There’s a lot of weddings in the area around this time, so people also have to get their wedding cards printed, but because of no internet, nothing is getting executed,” said a shopkeeper from Karauli district in Rajasthan.
This district which saw communal violence on April 2 has since had no internet, and a curfew has also been imposed. While there is no government order for the internet shutdown that is publicly available, an official in Rajasthan Government’s Home Department confirmed to MediaNama that the shutdown was still in effect. But the official declined to provide a copy of the internet shutdown order citing that the matter was still “sensitive”.
Ram Lal Goyal, the proprietor of Goyal General Stores in Karauli, claimed that he had received a text message from authorities stating that the internet shutdown will be extended till April 22. However, additional district magistrate Parasram Meena denied the claim but revealed that the internet shutdown will be in effect till April 7. He informed that further decisions regarding the matter will be taken by Rajendra Shekhawat, the district collector of Karauli. Shekhawat did not respond to MediaNama’s calls.
In its judgement, the Supreme Court had held that access to the internet enjoyed constitutional protection as it was a medium to exercise the right to freedom of speech and expression as well as the right to practice a trade or profession. The economic cost that comes with internet shutdowns in India was estimated to be $582.2 million in 2021 alone.
Internet was shut down to prevent rumours: Report
Mobile internet services were suspended in Karauli to check the spread of rumours, Hawa Singh Ghumaria, the Additional Director General of Police (ADG) of Law and Order in Rajasthan Police, told PTI on April 3.
Another PTI report, dated April 5, revealed that the curfew in the region has been extended till April 7. “As the present circumstances are not normal for the law and order situation. In such a situation, curfew is extended till April 7 midnight,” PTI reported.
— InternetShutdowns.in (@NetShutdowns) April 4, 2022
Legal provisions related to internet shutdowns
According to the Temporary Suspension Rules, an internet shutdown order needs to be:
- Placed before a review committee by the next working day after the order’s passage
- The review committee for the state government has to have the Chief Secretary as its Chairman, and as members: Secretary Law or Legal Remembrancer In-Charge, Legal Affairs; Secretary to the State Government (other than the Home Secretary).
- Scrutinised by a review committee within 5 days of such an order being passed and they have to and record their findings on whether the directions issued under the rules are in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 5 of the Telegraph Act (which allows for interception of communication in interest of public safety, sovereignty of state, etc.)
- Needs to be sent to the designated officers of the telecom authority or of the TSPs.
Revisit shutdown rules to minimise disruptions: IT Standing Committee
In December 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT tabled its report on the impact of internet shutdowns in India and recommended that the Central government take the following steps:
Maintain a database: The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should maintain a central database of all internet shutdown orders. This should contain additional information such as the number of times suspension has been imposed, reasons, duration, the decision of the competent authority, the decision of the Review Committees, and also whether any internet shutdown has been ordered by resorting to Section 144 of CrPC, etc.
Include civil society and others in review committee: Non-official members like retired judges, eminent citizens, heads of public organisations, TSPs as well as MLA or the local MP could be added to the review committee that is to convene, according to the telecom rules, five days after an internet shutdown is ordered. This was recommended after noting that the current structure of the review committee was “largely confined to the executive side of the Government” and that this would allow the committee to take a broader view.
Study the impact of internet shutdowns: A study on the impact of internet shutdowns, including economic impact and effectiveness in ensuring public safety, should be commissioned by the Government of India. The committee said this after noting that internet shutdowns severely impact the local economy, press, education, democratic rights, etc.
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