Internet Shutdown At Lakhimpur Kheri: What The SC Has Said In The Past

The UP government snapped internet services in the districts of Lakhimpur Kheri and Sitapur following violence at the farmers' protests.

The Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday extended its internet shutdown to Sitapur district ahead of Opposition leader and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi's attempt to visit the family members of those who died in the violence during the farmers protest on Sunday. However, there is no official order that outlines the scope of the internet shutdown.

The UP government on Sunday had ordered an internet shut down in Lakhimpur Kheri amidst violence in the state over the death of eight including four protesting farmers. Violence erupted in the state after an SUV allegedly belonging to the convoy of minister of state for home Ajay Mishra ploughed eight people down. An FIR has been filed in this matter with Mishra's son Ashish listed as one of the accused.

The internet ban is the latest in the series of shutdowns the country has been witnessing in the recent past. Advocacy rights group the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) tweeted that the UP's internet shutdown violated Supreme Court's Anuradha Bhasin verdict.

BOOM examines the Supreme Court guidelines on internet shutdowns.

Also Read: Internet Shutdowns, Women's Rights & Shaheen Bagh: SC Rulings In 2020

Access to the internet is a fundamental right, but conditions apply

The Supreme Court on January 10, 2020, in its Anuradha Bhasin verdict "constitutionally protected" one's right to access the internet but said reasonable restrictions applicable under other fundamental rights would apply.

The top court ruled that indefinite suspension of internet services was "impermissible" and that they must be lawful, necessary, and proportionate. It clarified that internet shutdowns "public emergency" or "in the interests of public safety" was a pre-requisite to suspend internet services. The ruling came on a plea filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor Kashmir Times, who sought the restoration of internet services that were snapped in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 and the division of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in two union territories.

In this landmark ruling, the top court laid down parameters for government-mandated internet shutdowns:

1) Indefinite internet shutdowns were impermissible.

2) The government must "publish all orders in force and any future orders under Section 144, Cr.P.C and for suspension of telecom services, including internet, to enable the affected persons to challenge it before the High Court or appropriate forum."

3) Any order suspending internet issued under the Suspension Rules must adhere to the principle of proportionality and must not extend beyond necessary duration and would be liable for judicial review.

4) A Review Committee must conduct a periodic review within seven working days of the previous review of the order suspending internet services.

Longest internet shutdowns recorded in India

Prima facie, the internet shutdown in Lakhimpur Kheri and Sitapur is problematic in the absence of a government order justifying the restriction of internet services. "In fact, even if the government alleges that there's a national security reason to snap internet services, it must first make a case of it," said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director of Access Now.

"Suspending the internet without justification is deeply problematic," he added. "The government opts for internet suspension as its go-to-rule far too often since internet shutdowns are often used to suppress media reportage or shield excess by the state security forces," Chima said.

According to data maintained by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), internet services were banned in Kawardha, Chhattisgarh amidst communal tension. The internet has been affected in Lakhimpur Kheri since October 3, even as the Rajasthan government snapped internet services in the state on September 27 to prevent cheating at the Rajasthan Eligibility Entrance for Teachers (REET) Exams.

Data from SFLC and advocacy group Access Now, further suggest that India has the ignominy of recording the longest internet shutdowns anywhere in the world. Even as the Supreme Court "constitutionally protected" the right to access the internet, the Kerala High Court in September 2019 ruled that access to the internet was a fundamental right.

The fundamental right to the internet has been globally accepted. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council held that access to the Internet is a fundamental right.

An Access Now report states that in 2020, India shut down the internet more than any other nation in the world at a whopping 109 times the global total of 155.

This year, 37 internet shutdowns have been recorded by SFLC's internet tracker. In 2020, there were 129 reported instances. Since 2012, there have been 544 reported shutdowns with Jammu and Kashmir bearing the brunt of the communication cut-off.

Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir were snapped for 552 days between August 4, 2019 to February 6, 2021 – the longest shutdown ever recorded.

The Centre on August 8 told the Parliament that the shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir was due to security concerns over the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. In the same written reply, the Centre submitted that it did not centrally maintain data on internet shutdowns since police and public order were state subjects. The Centre did not measure the socio-economic impact of internet shutdowns, a reply to another related question said.

Also Read: Internet Shutdown Data Not Centrally Maintained: Govt To Lok Sabha

Updated On: 2021-10-07T14:57:38+05:30
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