Internet restored in Keonjhar (Orissa) 48 hrs after shutdown

Internet was restored in Odisha’s Keonjhar district on Thursday, 48 hours after it was suspended following a clash between two  communities in the mining town of Joda in the district.

Those in the offices of Keonjhar Superintendent of Police Mitrabhanu Mahapatra and of District Collector Ashish Thakare confirmed to MediaNama that internet services was restored in the district on Thursday. However, they also added that if needed, Internet services can again be rescinded in the future. Mahapatra and Thakra themselves were not available for a comment on the matter.

Mahapatra had told the Times of India that internet services were temporarily suspended on Tuesday as a precautionary measure though the situation was under control. The ToI report also that nine platoon forces were deployed in Joda town where clashes erupted over not allowing a religious procession by a group of people. The report also added that Section 144 CrPC was also enforced in the town.

Ramdhar Sahu, a grocery store owner in Keonjhar also confirmed that internet services were now available in the area, and that it had been restored on the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday.

IFF expresses concern with the shutdown

In its judgement, the Supreme Court had held that access to the internet enjoyed constitutional protection as it was a medium to exercise the right to freedom of speech and expression as well as the right to practice a trade or profession. The economic cost that comes with internet shutdowns in India was estimated to be $582.2 million in 2021 alone.

Internet Freedom Foundation said, “Internet shutdown under Section 144 was impermissible as the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin (judgement) stated that Telecom Suspension Rules 2017 provide the regime to suspend the internet. The SC in Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India also mandated the publication of internet shutdown orders. To our knowledge, Odisha has not published internet shutdown orders which prevents those affected from seeking recourse to the courts.”

IFF urged Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to publish the internet shutdown order to “advance transparency towards individuals in affected areas”.

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Internet was suspended in Karauli, Rajasthan following clashes

In Rajasthan’s Karauli district curfew was imposed and internet was shutdown for five days “to prevent rumours” after the district witnessed communal violence on April 2.

Residents of the area faced a lot of difficulties during the period. “We are not able to do any sort of online payment, bank transaction. There’s a lot of weddings in the area around this time, so people also have to get their wedding cards printed, but because of no internet, nothing is getting executed,” said a shopkeeper from Karauli district in Rajasthan to MediaNama.

Last month, The West Bengal government’s Home and Hill Affairs Department ordered an internet shutdown for several days and across multiple districts.

The districts affected by the shutdown are:

  • Malda
  • Murshidabad
  • Uttar Dinajpur
  • Coochbehar
  • Jalpaiguri
  • Birbhum
  • Darjeeling

A petition was filed on the matter by IFF, and based on that the Calcutta High Court on March 10 stayed the West Bengal government’s order. The High Court observed that the order was not issued by the right person as per the law i.e. Section 144 Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) under which the order was issued, and insufficient reasoning – both in the order and the West Bengal review committee’s report submitted to the Court later, according to a LiveLaw report,

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.

Revisit shutdown rules to minimise disruptions: IT Standing Committee

In December 2021, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT tabled its report on the impact of internet shutdowns in India and recommended that the Central government take the following steps:

Maintain a database: The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should maintain a central database of all internet shutdown orders. This should contain additional information such as the number of times suspension has been imposed, reasons, duration, the decision of the competent authority, the decision of the Review Committees, and also whether any internet shutdown has been ordered by resorting to Section 144 of CrPC, etc.

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Include civil society and others in review committee: Non-official members like retired judges, eminent citizens, heads of public organisations, TSPs as well as MLA or the local MP could be added to the review committee that is to convene, according to the telecom rules, five days after an internet shutdown is ordered. This was recommended after noting that the current structure of the review committee was “largely confined to the executive side of the Government” and that this would allow the committee to take a broader view.

Study the impact of internet shutdowns: A study on the impact of internet shutdowns, including economic impact and effectiveness in ensuring public safety, should be commissioned by the Government of India. The committee said this after noting that internet shutdowns severely impact the local economy, press, education, democratic rights, etc.

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