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Haryana Govt Extends Order Suspending Mobile Internet Services in Seven Districts

The authorities have found the situation to be critical and tense in the seven districts and see a “clear potential” of “disruption of public utilities” and “disturbance of public law and order”.

Update on 16/02/2024: The Haryana government has extended the suspension of mobile internet services in seven districts–Ambala, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad, and Sirsa–of the State until February 17, 2024,  according to a report by Hindustan Times. This is the third time the Haryana Home Department has imposed internet restrictions amid ongoing farmers’ protests. The government had issued the first order on February 10, which was in force until February 13.

Original story published on 14/02/2024: In response to the farmers’ ‘Dilli Chalo’ agitation, the Haryana government has extended the order suspending mobile internet services in seven districts–Ambala, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad, and Sirsa including Dabwali–of the State until February 15, 11:59 pm, according to a report by India Today. On February 10, the State Home Department had issued the first mobile internet suspension order, which was in force until February 13.

The authorities have found the situation to be critical and tense in the seven districts and see a “clear potential” of “disruption of public utilities” and “disturbance of public law and order”. The order, issued under section 5 of the Telegraph Act and Rule (2) of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, lays out the same terms and conditions as the earlier one.  The restriction is applicable to mobile internet services, bulk SMS (excluding banking and mobile recharge), and all dongle services provided by mobile networks except voice call in the said jurisdictions.

What’s problematic about the order?

The usage of the phrase “clear potential” indicates that the Haryana government has taken to internet restriction as a preventive measure, without any substantial evidence of misinformation or “inflammatory material” that could affect public order. As pointed out by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) on X, the order disproportionately impacts freedom of assembly, free speech and expression online.

 

It also restricts legitimate information, especially during a major social and political movement, and adversely impacts people’s access to readily available means of communication, thereby limiting their freedom of speech and expression.

IFF also pointed out that there is no evidence showing the effectiveness of internet shutdowns in restoring peace. In fact, “Empirical studies indicate that such shutdowns may backfire, as they disrupt communication channels essential for organized peaceful protests and could potentially incentivise disorganized violence,” the statement noted.

Petition against internet shutdown in Punjab & Haryana High Court:

A plea filed before the Punjab & Haryana High Court on February 12 urged the Court to pass an interim order to stay all “obstructive actions” undertaken by the governments of Haryana, and Punjab, and the Union government against the farmers’ protests, including the suspension of mobile internet services.

Petitioner, advocate Uday Pratap Singh underlined in his petition that, “The suspension of telecommunications services not only curtails the citizens’ ability to exercise their democratic rights but also hinders their day-to-day activities, including access to essential services and communication with their families and communities.” Read more about the petition here.

(The article was updated on 16/02/2024 at 9:42 am to include latest development in the story.)

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Written By

Curious about the intersection of technology with education, caste and welfare rights. For story tips, please feel free to reach out at sarasvati@medianama.com

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