Haryana: Internet blackout to combat farmers protest?

State government snaps Internet services in five districts till Tuesday midnight “to maintain law and order”; Section 144 imposed in Karnal

karnalImage courtesy: News18

Ahead of the Kisan Mahapanchayat scheduled on September 7, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Haryana government has shut down Internet services in Karnal, and four neighbouring districts. This Kisan Mahapanchayat has been called to gather in Karnal district to protest the violent August 28 lathicharge against farmers. Many were injured in the brutal attack, and one person later died, allegedly succumbing to the injuries sustained during the police lathicharge.

The videos and images of the attack, as well as a video clip of the SDM Ayush Sinha purportedly ordering the Haryana police to hit the farmers on the head if they crossed the barricades had instantly gone viral. The farmers had called the Karnal lathicharge “Death of democracy!” Samyukt Kisan Morcha expressed shock and objection against Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar’s defence of Sinha. Videos of the attack had resulted in massive public outrage as well.

Now the government has snapped Internet services in the area from midnight of Monday till Tuesday midnight “to maintain law and order”. Section 144 has also been  imposed in the district. Here’s the order by the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs of Haryana, which authorises the internet black out based on Rule-2 of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017:

All SMS services, (except banking and mobile recharge) and all dongle services (except voice calls) have been suspended, stated the order. Internet has also been suspended in four other districts – Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind and Panipat.



According to media reports, the state government has said it fears “there might be disruption to public safety, law and order and the move is aimed at curbing the misuse of SMS and social media… that may lead to the spread of rumours which have a clear potential to cause damage to public property and facilities.” The farmers have called it an attempt to curb their basic rights including freedom of expression. Farmers have said they will go ahead with the protest as planned and gherao the mini secretariat of Karnal district. 



Who gains from internet shutdowns?

Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij said everyone had the right to protest, and appealed to the farmers to protest peacefully. He added that routes were diverted “for the convenience of the people” and that forces had also been deployed. Vij maintained that the internet shutdown was done because “some mischievous elements take advantage of the situation”.



However, Haryana Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) chief Gurnam Singh Charuni told the media that as the farmers’ meeting with the Karnal administration had failed the mahapanchayat at Karnal’s Anaj Mandi and mini secretariat gherao will go ahead as planned on September 7. Karnal administration’s prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) are now in place district banning large gatherings.

According to media reports, District Magistrate Nishant Kumar Yadav said all forms of telecom internet, SMS services and dongle services of mobile networks will be suspended, and only voice calls will be allowed on mobile networks. It has been reported that Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Navdeep Singh Virk said the Inspector General of Police Karnal Range and district superintendents of police in Karnal Range have been asked to be on their guard, as traffic disruptions are anticipated on National Highway No 44 (Ambala-Delhi) as well.

According to a March 2021 report in India Today, the nation had been subjected to the “Highest number of Internet shutdowns in the year 2020”, and had “topped the list of 29 countries that disrupted internet access for people.” A total of 155 internet shutdowns were imposed globally out of which India had 109 shutdowns, stated the report.



No plans to make law on regulation of internet shutdown

In March 2021, Sanjay Dhotre, the Minister of State for Communications, Education and Electronics and Information Technology, answered in the Parliament that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has no plans to frame a legislation to regulate internet shutdown in the country. However, to streamline the process of internet shutdowns in India, his written response stated, “DoT notified ‘Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017’ on 07.08.2017 under section 7 of Indian Telegraph Act, 1885. Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency & Public Safety) Rules, 2017 has been amended vide Gazette Notification dated 10.11.2020.”

Under these notifications, the directions to suspend the telecom services, including internet in an area, can either be issued by the Union Home Secretary or Home Secretary of State Government. 


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