Internet shutdown in Manipur

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Recently, Manipur High Court has granted limited Internet access in designated places in the State after a petition seeking the restoration of net access.
About the issue:
  • The State of Manipur ordered a state-wide internet shutdown to tackle the escalating violence.
  • The notification stated that the shutdown will prevent ‘anti-social elements’ from misusing social media platforms to incite the public, spread false rumours, and share hateful content.
  • The petitioners argued that the shutdown continued indefinitely even after the situation had ‘de-escalated’.
  • They asserted that the lack of internet access had severely impacted their lives and livelihoods, violating their fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
Internet Shutdowns in India:
  • According to a recent report, India enforced as many as 84 internet shutdowns in 2022 and was on top of the list for the fifth year in a row.
  • Other events:
    • Authorities in Rajasthan imposed shutdowns on 12 different occasions followed by West Bengal, which ordered shutdowns seven times.
Who Governs Internet Shutdowns in India?
  • Internet shutdown orders are governed under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
  • The 2017 Rules provide for temporary shutdown of telecom services in a region on grounds of public emergency and give senior bureaucrats from the Home Ministry at the central and state levels the power to order shutdowns.
  • The 1885 Act empowers the Central government to regulate various types of telecom services including internet services and grant licenses for them.
  • Using Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure: It justifies the communications blockade and the continuance of it, has been a rising trend.
    • Section 144 gives a magistrate the powers to enforce a general shutdown of the area if he or she believes that there could be violence in the area.
Criticism for internet shutdown:
  • The internet blackout and restrictions on movement has severely disrupted the lives of millions.
  • It has impacted everything, from college admissions to businesses filing tax returns.
  • The unavailability of internet has also severely impacted businesses.
  • According to ICRIER, internet shutdown had cost the Indian economy about $3.04 billion.
  • According to Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI), mobile carriers lost about $8 million a day for shutdown in any of the 22 circles where they operate in the country.
Related Court Judgements:
  • In Faheema Shirin versus the State of Kerala, 2019, the Kerala High Court declared “the right to Internet access as a fundamental right forming a part of the Right to Privacy and the Right to Education under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
  • In Anuradha Bhasin versus the Union of India, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled “that an undefined restriction of internet services would be illegal and that orders for internet shutdown must satisfy the tests of necessity and proportionality.”

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