Sanjay Dhotre, the Minister of State for Communications, Education and Electronics and Information Technology has 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 concerned as the case maybe, to maintain law and order in the State.
Lok Sabha member Karti P Chidambaram asked the Minister of Communications, whether the Government has taken note of the fact that the country has registered the world’s highest number of internet shutdowns. Opposing this stance, Sanjay Dhotre’s answer read: “No such authentic information is available with DoT.”
On the question that suspension of the internet is an attack on a citizen’s free speech, the Centre stated in the Parliament that the internet has become an easy tool to disturb social harmony. Cabinet Minister Dhotre answered, “In the present digital era, internet has become one of the important mediums for education, financial transactions, business, information, etc. and its contribution to the economic well-being of the society is substantial, but the fact cannot be denied that the social media platforms operating on internet are also being used by terrorists/anti-social elements to disseminate hate and violence thus disturbing the social harmony.”
Interestingly, on March 10, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad responded to a question pertaining to hate speech on social media saying that MEITy had blocked 1,385 URLs/accounts/webpages and this number had exponentially increased to 9,849 webpages/accounts in 2020. The ministry had blocked 2,799 webpages in 2018 and 3,603 in the year 2019, reported SabrangIndia.
Recently, on January 26, the Government had suspended internet services at the farmer protest site and adjoining areas of New Delhi which was extended till February 2. Owing to such suspensions, many parents had expressed concerns over their children missing out on online classes in a situation where education and learning has already been exacerbated due to the pandemic.
This year also saw the restoration of 4G internet service in Kashmir after 18 long months. On August 4, 2019, a day before the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, mobile phone networks, internet services, landline connectivity were all shutdown in the valley.
The answers may be read here: