Rajasthan has the most internet service outages. These bans violate Rajasthan people’s basic rights and create catastrophic economic harm.
The Udaipur Chambers of Commerce and Industry (‘UCCI’) and the Udaipur Hotel Association have petitioned the Rajasthan High Court, claiming that the Rajasthan government has consistently violated applicable law as well as the Supreme Court’s directions in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India by –
- Not posting internet suspension orders
- Suspending internet services for illegal reasons is prohibited by law.
Why should we care?
The internet is a fundamental right, and any interruption of your internet access is an infringement on your fundamental rights. No other state in India does this as regularly as Rajasthan, and virtually always in violation of the law. Udaipur industry groups have taken up the baton and petitioned the Rajasthan High Court to preserve their interests as well as the rights of millions. These actions may result in the Rajasthan government reducing the number of times it suspends internet connections.
Proceedings before Rajasthan High Court
UCCI, along with the Hotel Association of Udaipur, petitioned the Rajasthan High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. In the petition, they asked the Court to declare that the 26 internet suspension orders issued by the Udaipur Divisional Commissioner are illegal and to direct the Government of Rajasthan to –
1) Comply with the direction of Anuradha Bhasin;
2) publish internet suspension orders on their handle @RajGovOffical as well as widely circulated newspapers within 24 hours; and
3) ensure the Review Committee records and publishes its findings. The issue was considered by the Rajasthan High Court on 18.05.2022, and the Court heard lengthy statements from Senior Advocate Manish Shishoida, who represented the petitioners. Following that, the Court gave notice, grouped the case with other instances involving internet suspension, and scheduled the case for a hearing in July. We will keep you updated on the next hearing date.
On January 10, 2020, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Anuradha Bhasin, instructing governments across the country to –
Only suspend internet services in the event of a public emergency or in the interest of public safety; publish internet suspension orders; issue these orders as a last resort; conduct periodic reviews of suspension orders; and ensure suspension orders are proportionate, necessary, and in accordance with the law.
However, the state of Rajasthan appears to have missed the notice. We previously said that they had halted internet services to prevent test cheating, issued orders without any thought, and allowed the Committee that evaluates internet suspension orders to serve as a rubber stamp authority.
Since 10.01.2020, the Udaipur Divisional Commissioner has issued at least 26 internet suspension orders, the majority of which have not been publicized and can only be acquired through Right to-Information requests. These orders suspended internet access for a total of 506 hours.
The causes for internet outages in Udaipur range from avoiding exam cheating to quelling riots. They have caused enormous losses to the state’s enterprises, thus these industrial groups have agreed to take action against the arbitrary suspension of Internet services.
The challenge to the legality of these orders before the Rajasthan High Court
The business associations contended in their suit that the 26 directives issued by the Udaipur Divisional Commissioner are unconstitutional because:
- Examination-related internet suspension is not permitted: The Divisional Commissioner issued 7 of 26 directives to ensure the smooth operation of the Rajasthan Eligibility Exam for Teachers (‘REET’) and the Rajasthan Administrative Service. This is not a valid reason to stop internet access since exam cheating cannot be deemed a public emergency.
- Furthermore, in the 2018 case Dhirendra Singh Rajpurohit v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan government filed an affidavit indicating that it has asked all Divisional Commissioners across the state of Rajasthan not to halt internet access during examinations. As a result, the Rajasthan High Court dismissed the plea entirely on the basis of this sworn evidence. The suspension of internet services for REET examinations by the Udaipur Divisional Commissioner may now be considered contempt of the Rajasthan High Court’s instructions.
- Protest Internet Shutdown: In 18 of the 26 incidents of suspension of internet services between September 24, 2020, and September 28, 2020, the Udaipur Divisional Commissioner halted the internet to handle demonstrations. These directives were issued to quiet demonstrations by members of the Adivasi group, and they simply claimed that a ‘law and order crisis’ had emerged and that social media might be used to disseminate misinformation.
- These instructions also do not reach the requisite threshold of ‘on the occurrence of public emergency’ or ‘in the interests of public safety’. A law and order scenario is not the same as a public emergency, as defined by Anuradha Bhasin as events involving a “widespread risk of injury to the public.” Hence, these orders are illegal and a clear violation of the law laid down in Anuradha Bhasin that requires such orders only to be issued if ‘necessary’ and ‘unavoidable,’ since it is a ‘drastic’ measure.
- The Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, state that an order suspending telecom services must be issued either by the Secretary to the State Government (‘Competent Authority’) or, in unavoidable circumstances, by an officer not lower than the rank of Joint Secretary who has been duly authorized by the State Home Secretary.
- In the latter situation, such an order must be confirmed within 24 hours of issuing by the Competent Authority (in this case, the State Home Secretary). By continually issuing orders for suspension that are only effective for 24 hours at most, and then issuing a new but identical order the next day, the Divisional Commissioner looks to be colorably using their authority. The individual orders are only issued for a duration of 24 hours at a time, and thus, even if the Competent Authority or the Review Committee were to hold these orders to be illegal, by the time they do so, the internet suspension would have already ended, resulting in a fait accompli.
More instances of Internet Shutdowns in the last two months
Even after the public interest case was filed, multiple internet suspension orders were granted in Rajasthan in April and May 2022. In these cases, police officers stated that the suspension of internet connections was required for the maintenance of peace and law, and order in the aftermath of violent occurrences in several districts of Rajasthan.
Again, except in the case of Jodhpur, the orders mandating the suspension of services are not publicly accessible in the majority of these situations. As previously noted, the Jodhpur order used the same copy-paste template as the Division Commissioners of Udaipur and Jaipur. The PIL filed by the industry groups was scheduled for May 18, 2022, and we had the opportunity to show the illegal character of the suspension orders before the HC.
Rajasthan, the land of kings and monuments, is a state in India with a rich cultural heritage. However, despite its rich history and culture, Rajasthan has been plagued with a high number of internet service outages. This is a major issue that hinders the progress of the state and affects its citizens greatly.
As a result, it is essential for the government and service providers in Rajasthan to work together to ensure that internet outages are minimized and prevented from happening in the future. By addressing this issue, Rajasthan can strengthen its economy, improve education and healthcare services, and accelerate overall development.
Investment in infrastructure and advanced technologies coupled with effective crisis management strategies can go a long way in improving the internet services in Rajasthan. Therefore, it is imperative that Rajasthan takes immediate action to address this pressing issue and provide its citizens with uninterrupted internet access