Statement on Repeated Internet Shutdowns in Various States in Response to Violence

Internet shutdowns are becoming the government's routine response to communal clashes and violence. State governments and union territories have been issuing internet suspension orders in derogation of the letter and spirit of the Anuradha Bhasin directions and the applicable law.

Suspension of the internet, even temporarily, adversely impacts the fundamental rights of the people of India. Therefore, an internet suspension order must follow due process of law. IFF will write to Chief Secretaries and the Home departments of all the States and Union Territories demanding compliance with the Supreme Court directions and the law applicable to internet suspensions.

IFF statement

"The recent instances of internet shutdowns in Jharkhand, Orissa, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan in the last 15 days have taken place in derogation of the directions passed by the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India and the law applicable to internet suspensions. The home departments of the concerned States and Union Territory have not published internet suspension orders on their websites. In fact, an official of the Rajasthan Home Department declined to provide a copy of the internet shutdown order to newsmedia citing reasons of “sensitivity” of the matter. Orders in Jharkhand, Orissa and Rajasthan seem to have been impermissibly passed under Section 144 Cr.P.C, for various reasons, including putting a check on spread of rumours. In the absence of publicly available orders, it is difficult for affected persons to challenge the orders in courts.
Similarly, the websites of the concerned States and Union Territory have no information on the meeting of a review committee for reviewing the internet suspension orders. Details of each instance of internet shutdown are enclosed with this statement.

More than two years ago, the Supreme Court of India on January 10, 2020, declared the exercise of the right to free speech and the freedom to carry out one’s trade or profession via the medium of the internet a fundamental right. A fundamental right can only be restricted in a constitutionally permitted manner, and, therefore, the Supreme Court issued extensive directions to be followed while issuing internet suspension orders (popularly known as Anuradha Bhasin directions.) These directions include:

  1. Internet suspension orders must be published to enable legal challenge before courts;
  2. Internet suspension orders cannot be issued under Section 144 of the Cr.P.C. because the position has changed since the notification of Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public safety and public emergency) Rules, 2017 (‘Telecom Suspension Rules 2017’);
  3. Internet suspension orders must adhere to the principle of proportionality and must not extend beyond necessary duration; and
  4. A review committee must review the internet suspension order within 5 days of its issuance, with a periodic review within every 7 days thereafter.

The impact of internet shutdowns on the Indian economy and the daily lives of citizens is irreversible. From 2019 to 2021, the Internet was shut down in India for more than 14,000 hours causing, as a result, an economic burden of nearly $4.7 billion. Shutdowns affect citizens of all ages. There are several social and economic impacts, for eg., students are prevented from studying and writing exams, police accountability is affected, citizen journalism which is essential for documentation of current events comes to a halt, individuals involved in IT, tourism, daily-businesses etc. lose out on opportunities, and spread of misinformation and fake news is left unchecked.

Noting the non-compliance with the Anuradha Bhasin directions by states and union territories, and in the interest of protection of fundamental rights of citizens and transparency, Internet Freedom Foundation calls upon the competent authorities issuing internet suspension orders to ensure that the applicable law, i.e., the Telegraph Act, 1885, the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017, and the Anuradha Bhasin directions are followed. We will be writing representations to the Chief Secretaries and the Home departments of all the States and Union Territories urging them to comply with the letter and spirit of the Anuradha Bhasin directions and the applicable law while issuing internet suspension orders.

Enclosure:

Internet Shutdowns since April 1, 2022

S.No. State/Union Territory Date of first shutdown Order Published on Govt. Website? Findings of Review Committee published? Remarks (as per reports)
1. Rajasthan 02.04.2022 No No A curfew was imposed in the Karauli district of Rajasthan and the internet was shutdown after communal clashes took place during a religious procession. Rajasthan Police said that mobile internet was shut down to prevent rumours.
2. Jammu and Kashmir 09.04.2022 No No Internet was shutdown in Shopian’s Zainapora belt, Kulgam’s Yaripora belt, and Pulwama’s Litter belt allegedly as a precautionary ‘law and order measure.’
3. Orissa 11.04.2022
12.04.2022
No No Internet services were shut down in Keonjhar district till 12 AM of 14.04.2022 following the violent clash between two groups in the mining town of Joda over hoisting of Ram Navami flag on 11.04.2022. Prohibitory orders were issued under Section 144 Cr.p.C.
4. Jharkhand 10.04.2022
12.04.2022
No No The Lohardaga district administration suspended internet services after communal clashes took place during a procession of Ramnavami. This was done to check the spread of rumors.