The great Indian Internet shutdowns

The great Indian Internet shutdowns


The Supreme Court’s recent scrutiny of Jammu and Kashmir’s failure to publish orders for the suspension of Internet services prompts a revisit to the significance of the Anuradha Bhasin judgment. This article delves into the implications of restricting Internet access, especially in light of the economic repercussions.


GS-02 (Fundamental rights, right to information)


Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India, Digital India, Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India (2020), Supreme Court, Article 21

Mains Question:

Evaluate the economic, societal, and legal implications of frequent Internet shutdowns in India, with reference to the Anuradha Bhasin judgment. Propose comprehensive measures to ensure transparency, compliance, and the protection of fundamental rights in the context of Internet access. (250 words)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is an Internet shutdown
  • Present Legal Landscape and Challenges
  • Provisions Related to Internet Shutdown
  • Impacts of Internet Shutdowns

What is an Internet shutdown:

  • Internet shutdowns are intentional disruptions of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or unusable, often to exert control over information flow. These disruptions can impact mobile and broadband internet services.
  • On September 23, 2023, the Manipur government restored full internet access after a 143-day blackout, citing improved law and order. Citizens, including students and aid workers, welcomed the news.

Present Legal Landscape and Challenges:

  • The aftermath of the landmark Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India judgment, which recognized internet access as a fundamental right, witnessed rising expectations for limited and justified internet shutdowns.
  • However, the subsequent increase in such shutdowns in India, earning it the label of the “Internet shutdown capital,” underscored unmet expectations.
  • The transparency deficit in disclosing government orders for recent restrictions in regions like Jammu and Kashmir and Haryana revealed a gap between legal directives and practical implementations.
  • Legislative gaps and non-compliance contribute to the economic and societal impacts of these shutdowns, necessitating urgent alignment with the Supreme Court’s guidelines.

Provisions Related to Internet Shutdown:

  • Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 (Section 5(2)): Allows the suspension of telegraph services, including the internet, during public emergencies. Orders must be reviewed within five days and cannot exceed 15 days.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure (Section 144): Empowers authorities to issue orders, including internet suspension, to prevent public nuisance or disturbance.

Impacts of Internet Shutdowns:

  • Violation of Fundamental Rights: Contravenes Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g) protecting freedom of speech, expression, and the right to practice any profession via the internet.
  • Economic Consequences: Businesses, especially startups, may suffer financial losses. India lost Rs 2,091 crore ($255.2 million) in H1 2023 due to shutdowns.
  • Disruption of Education: Disrupts access to online educational resources, hindering students’ studies.
  • Trust and Censorship Concerns: Erodes trust, raises censorship concerns, and questions transparency in governance.
  • Impediment to Disaster Response: Affects communication during emergencies, hindering information flow and humanitarian assistance.
  • Disruption in Health Care: Impacts health systems, hindering urgent medical care, disrupting essential services, and limiting health information exchange.
  • International Repercussions: Can damage a country’s reputation and relationships with other nations, attracting international attention and condemnation.
  • Impact on Journalism and Reporting: Obstructs journalists’ ability to gather and share information, compromising the public’s right to know.

Way forward:

  • Addressing the challenges posed by Internet shutdowns requires a comprehensive approach. It necessitates legislative amendments to bridge gaps, increased awareness among officials regarding legal directives, and a paradigm shift in the government’s approach towards transparency.
  • Only through such concerted efforts can India harness the full potential of Digital India and overcome the detrimental impact of frequent Internet shutdowns.