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India Leads Global Internet Blackouts for Fifth Consecutive Year


For five consecutive years, India has topped the world in implementing internet bans, accounting for over 60% of all reported blackouts between 2016 and 2022. While these state-imposed internet shutdowns often cite reasons of national security and threats to public order, they have faced criticism from rights groups for restricting freedom of expression and access to information.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Internet Shutdowns in India
  2. Criticism of the Indian Government

Internet Shutdowns in India

Frequency and Duration:

  • Between 2014 and 2023, the Indian government enforced 780 internet shutdowns, as reported by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC).
  • In 2023 alone, India experienced internet shutdowns totaling over 7,000 hours.

Economic Impact:

  • Internet disruptions in India contributed to over 70% of the global economic losses in 2020.

Trigger Events:

  • Shutdowns escalated during significant events such as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (2019), the abrogation of Article 370 (2019), and the introduction of Farm Bills (2020).

Regional Data:

  • J&K witnessed the highest number of shutdowns, totaling 433, in the last 12 years.
  • The longest shutdown in 2023 occurred in Manipur from May to December due to ethnic clashes.
  • As of February 15, Haryana experienced active internet shutdowns amid ongoing farmers’ protests.

Comparing India’s Position with Global Trends

Global Internet Freedom:

  • Freedom House reports a decline in global internet freedom for the 13th consecutive year, with deteriorating human rights online in 29 countries.

Nature of Shutdowns:

  • Most internet disruptions in India over the past decade were localized to specific districts, cities, and villages.
  • Globally, protests are the primary cause of internet shutdowns, followed by information control and political instability.
Laws Invoked for Internet Suspension

Indian Telegraph Act:

  • States and Union Territories (UTs) can enforce internet shutdowns under the conditions of a “public emergency” or in the interest of “public safety”.
  • The Act, however, lacks clear definitions of what constitutes an emergency or safety issue.

Content Censorship:

  • Between 2015 and 2022, the majority of content censorship occurred under Section 69A of the IT Act by the Ministry of Electronics and IT and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  • URLs were frequently blocked due to associations with organizations banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Criticism of the Indian Government

Use of British-Era Laws:

  • The Union government utilized outdated British-era laws to suspend mobile internet during the Punjab farmers’ protests in Delhi.

Failure to Meet International Standards:

  • Activists argue that India did not adhere to the ‘three-part test’ when imposing internet blackouts in J&K and Manipur.
  • According to international law, countries must ensure that any action to block content or impose coercive measures aligns with:
    • Legality (provided for by law)
    • Legitimate aim
    • Necessity and proportionality standards

Way Ahead for the Indian Government

Supreme Court’s Stance:

  • In the pivotal Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that internet shutdowns infringe upon the fundamental rights to freedom of expression.
    • The apex court declared that indefinite shutdowns are unconstitutional.

Transparency in Shutdown Orders:

  • Governments should publicize shutdown orders, a requirement that is frequently disregarded and poorly complied with by authorities.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024