A resident of Haryana has filed a plea at the Punjab & Haryana High Court against the suspension of mobile internet services and other actions by the State authorities in view of the farmers protests, Bar & Bench reported on February 12, 2024. The petitioner and advocate at the HC, Uday Pratap Singh, has urged the Court to pass an urgent interim order to stay all “obstructive actions” undertaken by the governments of Haryana, and Punjab, and the Union government against the farmers protests demanding legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP).
To restrict communication about the proposed ‘Dilli Chalo’ march on February 13, the Haryana Government had ordered the suspension of mobile internet services and bulk SMS services (excluding banking and mobile recharge) in seven districts of the State, from 6 am on February 11 until 11:59 pm on February 13. The internet suspension is imposed in Ambala, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad, and Sirsa districts of Haryana.
Why it matters: The Haryana government has imposed mobile internet restrictions under the “apprehension” that the farmers’ march will pose a danger to public life and property. This indicates that the government has taken to internet restriction as a preventive measure, without any substantial evidence of misinformation or “inflammatory material” that could affect public order. Such actions restrict 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. In view of the plea filed at the Punjab & Haryana HC, it is for the Court to now decide whether the measure undertaken by the government is a proportionate one and in accordance with the constitutional provisions.
‘Depriving citizens of their right to information and communication’
The plea, shared by Bar & Bench and reviewed by MediaNama, argued that the internet suspension “restricts the movement of individuals and inhibits their ability to access information, thus impeding their right to assemble and protest peacefully”.
The petitioner has also underlined that the obstructive actions, including internet shutdown, violates citizens’ fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution of India, particularly regarding the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to assemble peacefully, and the right to life and personal liberty.
“The actions of the Haryana authorities, including the suspension of mobile internet services and bulk SMS in several districts, such as Ambala, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad, and Sirsa, further exacerbate the situation, depriving the citizens of their right to information and communication,” the plea noted.
The road blockade in addition to the imposition of the Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in Ambala and Kaithal districts, the petitioner stated, “demonstrates a concerted effort” by the State to stifle democratic expression and suppress dissent.
“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,” the petitioner added.
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