India known as ‘internet shutdown capital’ of the world

In 2019 and 2020 alone, Internet and allied services remained suspended in India for more than 13,000 hours, with as many as 164 instances of shutdowns being enforced.

The longest shutdown was of 552 days in Jammu and Kashmir.

India has earning the dubious distinction of “internet shutdown capital” of the world, ranking first globally for shutting down the internet.

Internetshutdowns.in, an internet tracker maintained by Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), records a total of 550 internet shutdowns in India so far since 2012, and over 50 per cent of these shutdowns were imposed since 2019, a report in The Indian Express noted, further quoting Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director at SFLC, as saying: “We source these shutdowns through media reports and suspension orders that are issued by the governments. These orders are not publicly available, which are then to be procured by filing applications under the RTI Act.

The longest shutdown, according to the tracker, was of 552 days in Jammu and Kashmir. It was imposed on August 4, 2019 and lifted completely on February 6, 2020.

The Shashi Tharoor-headed Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology in its report titled ‘Suspension of Telecom and Internet Services and Its Impact’ recently called for defining the parameters and setting up of a robust mechanism for internet shutdowns, observing that frequent suspension of telecom services and the internet affected the life and liberty of people, and caused a huge setback to the economy of the country.

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The committee noted that there is no centralised mechanism which maintains a database recording internet shutdowns imposed throughout the country.

“When the government’s thrust is on digitisation and knowledge economy with free and open access to internet at its core, frequent suspension of internet on flimsy grounds is uncalled for and must be avoided,” the committee said.

Also read: J&K’s ‘economic winter’ turning into ‘economic black hole,’ say experts

The Indian Express reported that in 2019 and 2020 alone, internet and allied services remained suspended in India for more than 13,000 hours, with as many as 164 instances of shutdowns being enforced. According to Top 10 VPN, a leading Virtual Private Network review website, in 2020 the internet was shut down in India for 8,927 hours, and it cost the country more than Rs 20,973 crore or more than Rs 2.34 crore per hour.

“The frequent internet outages affect our reputation globally… internet shutdowns adversely impact India’s reputation as an attractive business destination,” Internet Freedom Foundation has stated.

According to telecom suspension rules, the internet can be suspended only in a situation of a public emergency or for public safety and has to be done in accordance with Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act.

To prevent the misuse of provisions related to suspension of telecom services, the parliamentary panel has suggested that the government must put in place a proper mechanism to decide on the merit or appropriateness of telecom/internet shutdowns.

“Defined parameters of what constitutes public emergency and public safety may also be adopted and codified so as to ensure that there is no ambiguity in deciding the ground by different states while implementing the Suspension Rules,” the panel stated.

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