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Internet shutdown in Konaseema, Andhra Pradesh amid riots

This is Andhra Pradesh’s first recorded communication blackout.

Internet services were cut off and Section 144 was imposed in Andhra Pradesh’s Konaseema district on May 25 in response to violence over the state government’s proposition to change the district’s name to ‘BR Ambedkar Konaseema’, according to an India Today report.

While the order is not public yet, reports say that only mobile internet services have been affected. There have been cases of internet shutdowns sparing fixed cable and broadband services in the past. Messages shared by users on Twitter say that the shutdown is temporary but no one has specified the duration.

More than 500 police personnel have been deployed around the district. At least 46 people were arrested on charges of arson and rioting in Amalapuram, the district’s largest city, on the night that the shutdown was declared, as per Times of India.

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For the past three years, India has been leading the world in the number of internet shutdowns. It has even reached a point where government authorities are imposing blackouts at the first sight of disturbances.

What led to the shutdown?

Last week, the state government issued a preliminary notification seeking to rename Konaseema — the new district carved out of the erstwhile East Godavari — as BR Ambedkar Konaseema district. The government had invited objections, if any, from the people, saying that the proposal to rename the new district was based on the demand raised by all political parties.

The Konaseema Sadhana Samiti objected to the proposed renaming of the district and wanted the name Konaseema retained. The Samiti organised a protest on May 24 but police reportedly tried to foil the protest, according to The News Minute. This infuriated the protesters which eventually led to violence in the non-descript town of Amalapuram.

The temporary mobile internet shutdown was declared on the morning of May 25. As per the SLFC’s Internet Shutdown Tracker, this is Andhra Pradesh’s first recorded communication blackout.

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.

Recent internet shutdowns in other parts of the country

While this may be Andhra Pradesh’s first internet shutdown, it is India’s 37th documented blackout in 2022 so far.

  • Jodhpur: 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.
  • Bhilwara: Internet services were restored in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district on May 6 following a 24 hours suspension order on May 5, which came on as a result of clashes that emerged after two people were attacked on Wednesday night
  • 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 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.
  • Hazaribagh: Mobile broadband and fixed-line internet services were restricted in the Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand for over 24 hours.
  • 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.

What will be the future of internet access in India?

Do you want to keep track of internet shutdowns in India but don’t have the time? Relying on scattered content from across the web makes it feel harder than it needs to be.

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