Internet and SMS services have been shut down in Jodhpur (Rajasthan) after a curfew was imposed under Section 144 following communal violence in the city on May 3, according to an order issued by District Magistrate Himanshu Gupta.
“In the interest of public order, 2G/3G/4G/Data (Mobile Internet), Bulk SMS/MMS/WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other social media services through Internet Service Providers will be blocked temporarily across Jodhpur zila for an undetermined period till further notification from 1:00 AM onwards.” — DM order
Internet suspension without any particular duration and indefinitely is in violation of telecom rules, the Supreme Court of India had observed in its Anuradha Bhasin judgement. Fixed lines and cable broadband connections, as well as voice calls, are still operational as per the order.
The District Magistrate cited Section 2(i) of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 as grounds for the order. This section specifically deals with the checks and balances in place around ordering internet shutdowns. As per the rules, a local authority can only call for an internet shutdown if they have permission from a competent authority like the Secretary of the state’s Home Department. If the local authority had to block the internet in an emergency, they are required to obtain approval for the internet shutdown from the competent authority within 24 hours.
On May 4, a Rajasthan government official confirmed to MediaNama that the internet blackout is still ongoing at the time of publishing this report. The official also refused to share a copy of the extension order or the secretary’s approval of the order citing “sensitivity.”
What led to the internet shutdown?
“There were flags of [Hindu deity] Parashuram near the area where namaz is offered. There was a dispute about removing the flags as the local Muslim community puts up a flag [every year] on the occasion of Eid but while dispersing [the mob], tension escalated and there was stone pelting,” Additional Director General of Police Hawa Singh Ghumaria told The Indian Express. A curfew was imposed under Section 144 in Udai Mandir, Nagori Gate, Khanda Phalsa, Pratap Nagar, Dev Nagar, Soor Sagar, and Sardarpura, according to an order passed by the Jodhpur Deputy Commissioner of Police Rajkumar Choudhary.
“Due to internet blackout, no one is getting to know what is going on in Jodhpur,” Govinda Vaishnav, a shop-owner at the city’s Kabutaro ka Chowk, told MediaNama. “So many people have been assaulted, plus shops in my area have been vandalised, their windows broken with bricks and stones and all the goods inside, looted,” Vaishnav added.
Internet was blocked in the same state last month
In the first week of April, a week-long internet shutdown was imposed in Karauli district of Rajasthan. The shutdown was reportedly prompted by communal clashes. The Jodhpur incident is the 45th internet shutdown to take place in India so far this year, according to a tracker operated by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in).
Rajasthan is also the state with the second-highest number of internet shutdowns in the past decade, with 81 shutdowns since 2012 compared to Jammu & Kashmir (399). Internet shutdowns have slowly emerged as the go-to measure for states and the central government when it comes to dealing with public disorder, communal clashes, etc.
Recent internet shutdowns in India
Patiala: This district in Punjab was affected by violence on April 30 following which the state government decided to cut off access to the internet for eight hours. Mobile internet services, SMS services, and dongle services provided on mobile networks were suspended in Patiala to check the spread of misinformation and rumours through various social media platforms, as per an order signed by the Principal Secretary of Home Affairs and Justice department Anurag Verma.
Keonjhar: Internet services were suspended in Odisha’s Keonjhar district for a day following a clash between two communities in the mining town of Joda in the district. Government officials had told the Times of India that internet services were temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure though the situation was under control.
Hazaribagh: Mobile broadband and fixed-line internet services were restricted in the Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand for over 24 hours. While no official order had been made public, locals of the district informed 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.
West Bengal: The state government’s Home and Hill Affairs Department ordered an internet shutdown in March this year for many days and across seven districts. The order said that internet services were restricted from March 7 to 16, except on March 10 and 13, 2022. Here are some of the districts affected by the shutdown:
- Uttar Dinajpur
The order had cited intelligence inputs about ‘unlawful activities’ taking place in the absence of preventive measures as a reason behind the shutdown. It was stayed by the Calcutta High Court based on a petition filed by IFF staffer Ashlesh Biradar.
What will be the future of internet access in India?
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