With 554 internet shutdowns since 2012, half of which were imposed after 2019
India has earned the title of internet shutdown capital of the world. With 320
shutdowns, the state of Jammu and Kashmir tops the list. The state also
witnessed the longest internet shutdown of 552 days when there was either no
internet or low speed (2G) internet available. It started on August 4, 2019 and
was lifted by the government on February 6, 2020.
In terms of duration, the internet was suspended for 13,000 hours in 2019 and
2020 alone. According to a report India witnessed internet shutdown for 8,927
hours in 2020 which cost the country Rs. 20,973 crores. It means that each hour
of internet shutdown costs India Rs. 2.34 crore. Though according to section
5(2) of Indian Telegraph Act Internet shutdown can be imposed only in situations
of public emergency or public safety, the government frequently resorts to
shutdown for various other reasons.
On 26th September 2021, Rajasthan government imposed internet shutdown and bulk
sms/mms shutdown in 5 districts. Namely Jaipur rural, Jhunjhunu, Alwar, Sikri
and Dausa for 12 hours to prevent cheating in Rajasthan Eligibility Exam for
Teachers (REET) exam. This shutdown ended up affecting more than 250 lakh people
disrupting daily life, education and e-commerce among others. It was despite the
fact that in Dhirendra Singh Rajpurohit v. State of Rajasthan (DB Civil Writ No.
10304 of 2018), the Rajasthan Government provided an undertaking before the High
Court of Rajasthan stating that it would not impose internet shutdowns for the
purpose of preventing cheating in examinations.
In January, 2020, the Supreme Court of India gave its judgment in Anuradha
Bhasin vs Union of India case AIR 2020 SC 1308.The Supreme Court said that
access to information via the Internet is a fundamental right under Article
19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and that freedom to conduct trade, business
or occupation using the internet is also a fundamental right under article
19(1)(g) of Indian constitution. Any restrictions on such have to follow the
mandate under Article 19(2) and 19(6) of the constitution, including the test of
proportionality. While having a reasonable time duration rather than being
arbitrary and indefinite.
This judgment also subjected the government to judicial scrutiny for abuse of
rights under section 144 Cr.P.C. Despite the judgment, these directions are
frequently ignored by the government and 129 internet shutdowns were imposed
across the country in 2020 and 45 internet shutdowns were imposed in 2021 . We
will be discussing the impact of these shutdowns on the everyday life of the
common people in our country. Emphasis will be on the economic and social impact
of these internet shutdowns in India.
What Constitutes An Internet Shutdown?
There are multiple definitions of Internet Shutdown. It's often referred to as
internet blackouts, blanket internet ban, digital curfew and more. Most of them
mean affecting the access to the internet usually by a government which may be
restricted in a geographical area, time. Access now defines it as:
An internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of internet or electronic
communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a
specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow
Economic Impact Of Internet Shutdown
Internet Shutdowns have a huge economic loss associated with them. The transit
to online mechanisms in covid has led to further reliance on the internet as a
medium for work, education, access to essential services such as health care and
judiciary which all moved online.
Online shopping, banking services, government
portals all are affected in the event of an internet shutdown. This results in a
huge economic loss for the nation. It is estimated that internet shutdown in
India costed India $2.8 billion in 2020 alone.
Internet Shutdowns lead to missed opportunities. Having a contradictory ground
reality and national schemes don't help in building investor confidence. Digital
India is a flagship programme of the Government of India with a vision to
transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
Digital India has the aim to lead an inclusive growth for all. The Internet is
an essential ingredient for a Digital India.
Total Internet users in India were 825.30 million at the end of Mar-21. The
growing number of Internet users has been a commendable achievement for India at
the same time India has also got the distinction of being the worlds 'internet
The mixed signals by India towards internet access and freedom are difficult to
interpret. What is clear is that India has a large number of Internet users who
are being hurt in the process. Restriction on the Internet has already led to
losses in billions of US dollars for India and with the growing transition of
small and medium sized business to online platforms the losses will only
increase if internet shutdowns are used to restrict freedom of citizens. For a
robust economy to function rights of citizens have to be respected with utmost
Legal Provisions Related To Shutdown
Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973:
Section 144 of the Criminal
Procedure Code is used by the government to impose internet blackouts in various
areas. It gives power to a District Magistrate, Sub-divisional Magistrate or an
Executive Magistrate to issue directions to maintain public order in urgent
cases of nuisance or apprehended danger.
Section 69A of The Information Technology Act, 2000:
It grants the Central
Government, or any officer designated by it, the authority to direct the
blocking of public access to any information via any computer resource in the
interest of India's sovereignty, integrity etc.
The Gujarat High Court upheld the government's ability to use Section 144 Cr.P.C.
in the case of Gaurav Sureshbhai Vyas v. the State of Gujarat
, rejecting the
argument that the government lacked the authority to shut down the internet
under Section 144 because the ability to block information on a computer is
connected to Section 69A of the IT Act.
Suspension Rules under Telegraph Act 1885:
Under the Indian Telegraph Act of
1885, the government issued the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public
Emergency or Public Safety) Rules in 2017.
When passing an order to shut down the internet, the regulations stipulate
certain safeguards that must be followed, some of which are as follows:
- Such directions should be issued by order of Secretary to Government of
India in Home Ministry or by Secretary to State government in charge of Home
Department in case of state and, in unavoidable circumstances by an officer
who has been duly authorized by Union Home Secretary or State Home
Secretary. Within 24 hours of its issuance, this order must receive
confirmation from a competent authority; if confirmation is not received,
the order is void.
- Any such order must be justified, and a copy must be sent to the Review
Committee within one working day. The Review Committee must meet within five
days to record its findings regarding whether the order is in compliance
with Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act, which provides for Power of
government to take possession of licensed telegraphs and to order
interception of messages on occurrence of any 'public emergency' or in the
interest of 'public safety'
In Anuradha Bhasin v/s Union of India
AIR 2020 SC 1308, Supreme Court explicitly recognised two things: that the freedom to access information is a fundamental
right under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution; and that the freedom to
conduct your trade, profession or business over the internet is also a
fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g).
The court emphasized the need to follow certain safeguards when using the
authority granted by Section 144 of the CRPC, 1973, such as conducting an
investigation before making an order, communicating the order, determining its
duration, etc. Both in times of immediate danger and when there is a threat of
danger, Section 144 can be used to take corrective or preventive action.
However, issuing repeated orders in violation of section 144 would be an abuse
Additionally, it was noted that the order suspending internet access is subject
to judicial review. The Court ordered that the review committee must conduct a
periodic review of such suspension order within 7 working days of the previous
review because the Telegraph Act's existing rules do not set a deadline for
Rather than restricting access to the entirety of the Internet, India can stop
access to social media and messaging platforms. To allow the functioning of
services in other sectors such as healthcare, e-commerce, banking and others.
The main reason for shutdowns has been in the interest of maintaining public
safety and averting public emergencies. Allowing some services to function
should help in reducing the losses and inconvenience caused to the general
public. An Internet Blackout should be avoided.
The arbitrary internet shutdowns by India have resulted in significant losses to
India. Attempts should be made to use these as more of a last resort.
- Internetshutdowns.in , an internet tracker maintained by Software Freedom Law
- Top 10 VPN, a leading Virtual Private Network review website
- Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India, AIR 2020 SC
- Article 19(1)(a) All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and
- Article 19(1)(g) All citizens shall have the right to to practise any
profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business
- Antriksh Shiva
- Kartik Rathee
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