Internet shutdown imposed everyday for a period of two months in Jammu and Kashmir: RTI
We at SFLC.in have been tracking incidents of Internet shutdowns across India in an attempt to draw attention towards the number and frequency of shutdowns, which are imposed for reasons ranging from curbing unrest to preventing cheating during examinations. This data is made publicly available in the form of an interactive Internet Shutdown Tracker hosted on our dedicated website www.internetshutdowns.in, which also features additional resources on the topic.
In the month of October 2021 after targeted killings of civilians it was reported that several intermittent internet shutdowns were being imposed in Kashmir. These shutdowns were hyper local in nature. However, most of these shutdowns were unannounced. There was no official publication of shutdown orders before a shutdown was imposed. Recently, in January and February as well many internet shutdowns were imposed unannounced, we also covered this issue here. Following which we filed a Right to Information Application dated 25 November 2021 to seek details of these unannounced internet shutdowns. The reply for which we received on 30th March 2022, after 5 months.
The application sought the following information:
Date and duration of each shutdown imposed in the month of August, September, October and November. Further, the districts in which these shutdowns were imposed.
The application also asked for the orders issued for imposing shutdowns.
If each order was given wide publicity as directed by the Supreme Court of India in the judgment of Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India? In case the orders were not published the reason for the same.
Whether there is a review committee constituted as per sub-rule 2(5) of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017? If there is on then please provide the minutes of the meeting.
Observations from the Right to Information reply received:
Order made after shutdown was imposed
The date of orders on which they have been issued is later than the date on which the shutdown started. A perusal of the shutdown orders reflects that the timing of the shutdowns was normally a day before the order has been dated. Most of the orders are post-dated. Further, these orders were not published on the government websites till 15 March 2022. Imposing an internet shutdown without issuing an order as mandated under the Telecom Suspension Rules is illegal. In the case of Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India, a reasoned order has been held to be a pre requisite for imposing an internet shutdown. It has also been held that administrative discretion which affects fundamental rights must have procedural safeguards which provide protection from abuse of the discretion. Further, freedom of speech and expression cannot be restricted by a mere executive fiat. [See Madras v V G Row AIR 1952 SC 196; Virendra v. Punjab AIR 1957 SC 896] Shutting down of internet when there is no order issued is an executive fiat and illegal.
Copy paste reasoning
It is also observed that majority of orders contain the same language and are copy paste orders. This reflects non application of mind and does not satisfy the condition of reasoned order. It is also observed that most of the orders have copy pasted the phrase “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state and for maintaining public order”. However, the order completely fails to provide proper reasons because of which internet needs to be shutdown in the interest of above mentioned grounds. This further adds to the arbitrary nature of the shutdown.
Internet shutdown imposed everyday for a period of two months
It has also come to light that an internet shutdown was imposed everyday. Most of these shutdowns were imposed from 8:00 am to 11:00 and then from 3:00 pm to 10:00 pm on a daily basis. The reason given by the authorities for such intermittent shutdowns was use of internet by terrorists at these times. This means internet was working only for 4 hours during the day. The Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin categorically held that a perpetual internet shutdown cannot be imposed. However, the manner in which these shutdowns were imposed- a new order being issued every alternate day with copy pasted reasons and internet being available only for 4 hours during the day- it did result in a perpetual shutdown of internet for another 2 months.
Silent on the fact if the shutdown orders were published
The reply received does not mention anything about publication of the internet shutdown orders before imposing a shutdown. It was also reported that these shutdowns were unannounced and there was no official communication from the government. The Jammu and Kashmir Home Department website did not have these shutdown orders. The orders were uploaded as late as on 15th March 2022.
List of Internet Shutdowns