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The Constitutionality of the Manipur Internet Shutdown

Natasha Maheshwari

 

I. Introduction


Internet shutdowns in India have exponentially increased over the last few years. From only 3 reported shutdowns in 2012, the number increased to 132 in 2020, 101 in 2021 and 77 in 2022 [1]. The escalating frequency and apparent disregard with which the Government imposes internet shutdowns, particularly as it aspires to metamorphose into a ‘Digital India’, has sparked widespread debate and discussion.


The ongoing hundred-day shutdown in the State of Manipur in north-east India serves as yet another distressing example of the Indian government’s hackneyed tactic of shutting down the internet as a quick-fix solution to (i) cheating in examinations; (ii) protests; (iii) law and order concerns; and (iv) communal violence [2]. The imposition of the shutdown in Manipur on May 3, 2023, was a response to incidents of violence during rallies organised by volunteers and youth protesting the demand for inclusion of the Meitei/Meetei community within the Scheduled Tribe category.


The Meitei community lives in the Imphal valley in Manipur. They are predominantly Hindu and form more than 50% of the state’s population. Notably, despite forming half of the population of the state, they can only reside in the Imphal valley, which forms 10% of the total land area in Manipur. The rest of Manipur – consisting of the hill districts — is occupied by 35 predominantly Christian tribes, including the Kukis and Zos. Scheduled Tribe status would enable the Meitei people to buy land in the hill districts and make them eligible for welfare schemes, tax relief, reservation in educational institutions, etc. Given that this would give the Meiteis privileges comparable to the tribal communities, the Meitei demand for ST status is strongly opposed by the tribals, who organised the aforementioned protests and rallies. These clashes between the Meiteis and tribals soon escalated into widespread arson, violence, and killings across the state, which, it can be argued, justified a temporary and time-bound shutdown of the internet.


A few days after the initial shutdown, tensions were diffused, and aside from sporadic incidents of violence that could be addressed at the district level, there was a clear and admitted de-escalation of the situation [3]. Despite this gradual return to normalcy, the state-wide internet shutdown order issued by State Government on May 3, 2023, and May 4, 2023, was mechanically extended approximately 20 times (the last order was issued on August 9, 2023).


On July 25, i.e., the 83rd day of the shutdown, the Government revoked the suspension of internet leased line and fibre-to-the-home broadband services. This pivotal decision came as a direct response to an order from the Hon’ble High Court of Manipur at Imphal [4]. However, it's noteworthy that the suspension of mobile data and access to the internet/data via VPN services persisted. While this move might appear as a significant easing of the ban, it's crucial to recognize that for a substantial portion of the local population, the situation continues to resemble an internet blackout. This is because a staggering 96% of internet users in India rely on their mobile data for internet access, while a mere 4% have the privilege of accessing broadband connections [5]. Consequently, for all intents and purposes, there has been a complete and indefinite blockade of internet access across the state for more than a hundred days, causing significant harm to the constitutionally-protected rights of the residents.


This article will make the case that the complete, indefinite, and continuous blockade of the internet in Manipur, even to address potential threats to ‘law and order’, is violative of (a) the fundamental rights guaranteed by Part 3 of the Indian Constitution, thus falling outside the scope of the reasonable restrictions laid down by Article 19(2); (b) the Supreme Court’s judgment in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India [6]. and (c) the Telecom Suspension Rules, which provide the statutory basis for an internet shutdown. Lastly, I posit, the hundred-day restriction on the right to access the internet fails the test of proportionality, as laid down in Modern Dental College v. State of Madhya Pradesh [7] and expounded in KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India [8] and Anuradha Bhasin.


II. The internet shutdown in Manipur is violative of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by 21 and Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India


A. Article 21


The internet has revolutionised the way we live. From basic to the most complex, many facets of economic and social activity are now affected by, and conducted through the internet. For instance, governments are increasingly investing in e-governance initiatives to provide efficient citizen services viz., PDS, subsides and welfare schemes such as NREGA. Likewise, on an individual level. businesses, communication, financial transactions, and educational activities, all take place through the internet [9].


Without the internet for more than a hundred days, lives in Manipur have been brought to a standstill. “Transactions have become a problem. Even receiving money has become problematic, as cash is only sometimes available. For a simple mobile recharge, we have to ask friends from outside Manipur to do so.”, said Thomas, a resident of the State, to Hindu BusinessLine [10]. Khangembam Diamondsana Singh, a tenth-grade, student told India Today that “we can’t access any kind of online activity for students like online classes or taking notes online…I’m about to attend the CBSE board examination” [11].


The prolonged internet outage also impeded journalists’ ability to send reports, research, and write stories. The disruption was so profound that most newspapers found themselves unable to publish editions, and in a bid to bridge the gaping information gap, Manipuris began to print makeshift newspapers [12]. Furthermore, the extended and broad shutdown of the internet also impacted emergency and health services. Resultantly even hospitals were compelled to issue statements condemning the shutdown, which prevented people who had CMHT (health assurance scheme launched by the Government of Manipur) and PMJAY (Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojana) cards from availing the benefits of these schemes, thereby rendering essential healthcare unaffordable [13].


Last but not least, the right to work and right to livelihood has been eroded: it is now harder for people to work, especially since (i) schemes such as NREGA have become digitised and use the internet to conduct attendance checks and wage payments; (ii) people have started working remotely, and in different time zones; and, (iii) businesses rely heavily on websites, apps, and virtual private servers hosted on platforms like DigitalOcean, AWS and Google Cloud [14].


Given its importance, the right to continuous internet service is an extension of the fundamental right to life [15]. Consequently, any discontinuation of internet services would directly violate Article 21 of the Constitution. Hence, such shutdowns should only be imposed in the ‘rarest of rare’ cases, as established in the cases of In Re: Reference to the Discontinuation of Internet Services by State Authorities [16] and Faheema Shirin R.K. v. State of Kerala [17].


Implementing a blanket blockade of the internet, lasting a significant period like hundred days, would undoubtedly amount to an ex-facie infringement of the right to life and livelihood, and is therefore unconstitutional. Several reports [18] further substantiate this claim, highlighting the adverse impact internet restrictions have had on the residents of Manipur and their livelihoods.

B. Article 19(1)(a)


The right to freedom of speech and expression using the constitutionally protected medium of the internet was read into Article 19(1)(a) by the Supreme Court in the 2019 judgment of Anuradha Bhasin. To understand what the ‘right to freedom of speech and expression’ over the internet means, it is essential to trace the development of the jurisprudence in protecting the ‘medium’ for speech and expression. This started with Indian Express v. Union of India [19], wherein the Supreme Court declared that the freedom of the ‘print medium’ is covered under the freedom of speech and expression, and then Odyssey Communications Pvt. Ltd. v. Lokvidayan Sanghatana [20], and Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India v. Cricket Association of Bengal [21], wherein it was held that the right of citizens to exhibit films on Doordarshan and the right to use airwaves, respectively, were constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(a). Basically, as technology has evolved, Courts recognised the freedom of speech and expression over different media of expression. In the 21st century, since expression through the internet has gained contemporary relevance and the Internet has become one of the major means of information diffusion, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in Anuradha Bhasin, declared it an integral part of Article 19(1)(a).


This section will discuss the three ways in which the internet shutdown in Manipur has violated Article 19(1)(a): first, by monopolising the free flow of information from the State; second, by muzzling dissent, which is one of the most fundamental freedoms enjoyed by the citizens against the State; and third, by indefinitely and continuously shutting down the internet for more than 100 days, and even after there was an admitted de-escalation of the tensions in the state.


1. By criminalising speech and expression through the constitutionally-guaranteed medium of the internet, the Government of Manipur has monopolised the flow of information and facts from the violence-torn state


Socrates chose to die rather than to have his ideas censored; Plato argued for censorship of the arts; the Romans censored plays and banished offending poets; and, Pope Gelasius in the fifth century, issued the first papal list of prohibited books — all of which indicates that censorship predates technology [22]. However, censorship gained momentum with the coming of the 15th century, when the printing press and the subsequent spread of literacy broke the historic monopoly of religious and government institutions on communication with the masses.


Concomitant with the growth of censorship was the growth of ideas of free expression, which both countered and provoked censorship. In the West, for instance, cultural values from the Enlightenment elaborated on by Immanuel Kant and later J.S. Mill stressed the importance of freedom of expression and openness as central to finding the truth and for the stability and effectiveness of democratic government. Individuals were optimistically assumed to be responsible and rational beings who would reach the best conclusions, whether involving normative or empirical truth, with full information and discussion.


Then, in the last half of the 20th century, with the Allies’ victory over fascist governments in WWII, the fall of colonialism and the ending of the cold war, the cultural force of democratic ideals involving freedom of inquiry and expression grew stronger. It was found that autocratic leaders perceive censoring the media and/or controlling information to be an essential strategy that prevents contestation, the revelation of human rights infringement, or corruption [23]. Freedom of information, transparency, and visibility, therefore, became the core principles of a democracy.


Hence, internet shutdowns, which are a form of blanket censorship, unjustifiably infringe upon the citizenry’s right to know and be aware, particularly of social, political, and economic issues of the day. The clashes between the Meiteis and Kuki-Zos in Manipur is one such issue that people have the right to be aware about and to access a range of opinions on the issue [24].


Due to the unending internet shutdown in Manipur, a large section of the population was blissfully unaware of, for example, the sexual violence that accompanied the riots in the State. Then, on around July 19, 2023, a distressing video showed two tribal women being paraded naked by a violent mob in the village of B Phainom, Kangpokpi district, Manipur. At least one of these women was gang-raped during the incident. The actual incident took place on May 4, 2023, which was more than two months before the video’s circulation [25].


The circulation of the video ignited a nationwide surge of outrage. This outcry acted as a catalyst, jolting the previously inactive government functionaries and investigators into swift and decisive action, leading to the prompt arrest of the accused individuals. The catatonic behaviour exhibited by the Manipur government and law enforcement agencies was criticised by even the Supreme Court, which is currently addressing a series of petitions related to the Manipur violence, including those filed by victims of sexual assault. Their astonishment was palpable upon discovering that, in certain instances, FIRs had not been filed for almost three months following the incidents [26]. This gang rape is just one of the several instances of violence that have transpired in the past two months. However, much of this information has remained hidden from the public (thereby increasing state impunity) due to the state authorities’ indefinite and complete internet shutdown — a favoured weapon in the Government’s arsenal, employed to suppress and intimidate any facts that may challenge the State's narrative.


2. Article 19(1)(a) protects dissenting speech


For a sustainable democracy, an informed dissenting culture and active public participation in governance are indispensable. A democracy, therefore, must not merely tolerate dissent; it must encourage it. Article 19(1)(a), therefore, captures not only one of the most fundamental of freedoms enjoyed by the citizen against the State, but also, by entrenching the right to dissenting speech in particular, guarantees conditions of political life essential for the survival of a democratic polity itself [27].


Therefore, employing internet bans as a means to suppress divergent voices infringes upon citizens' constitutional rights to critique the management of Manipur's turmoil by both the State and Union Government. Such actions erode a citizen’s ability to exercise their right to hold the State accountable and call for remedial measures, especially in instances where observable deficiencies or oversights have transpired.


3. Continuous suspension of the internet even after there has admittedly been a de-escalation of the clashes in the state, is not captured within the contours of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Therefore, the shutdown orders infringe upon the resident’s constitutional right to access the internet


Since the right to access the internet is constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(a), it can only be restricted by conditions laid down in Article 19(2) of the Constitution, i.e., in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence.


The initial ethnic clashes between the Meitei and tribal groups resulted in widespread killings, arson, and violence. Therefore, it can be argued that a temporary suspension of the internet could be considered a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2). However, since then, tensions between the Meitei and tribal groups have significantly subsided, and apart from sporadic incidents of violence that can be addressed at the district level, there has undeniably and admittedly been a de-escalation of the situation.


Therefore to constitutionally justify a hundred-day ban on the internet, each of the twenty times they renewed the internet shutdown, the Government was required to demonstrate that:


a. The transmission of information/messages/images via the internet posed a threat to ‘public order’ [28], which is different from ‘law and order’ (as established by the Supreme Court in Ram Manohar Lohia v. State of Bihar & Anr) [29].


b. The transmission of information/messages/images via the Internet would act as ‘sparks in a powder keg’, indicating an active incitement to violence. This means that the anticipated danger from these images/messages/social media posts should not be remote, conjectural or far-fetched. It should have a proximate and direct nexus with the speech or expression (S. Rangarajan v P. Jagjeevan Ram and Ors) [30].


C. Article 19(1)(g)


In Anuradha Bhasin, the Supreme Court recognises that the freedom of trade and commerce through the medium of the Internet is constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(g). Therefore, access of this right can only be restricted under Article 19(6) of the Constitution. Article 19(6) allows Article 19(1)(g) rights to be restricted only for ‘public interest’, which rational nexus is not satisfied by an indefinite internet suspension. This is for two reasons: first, the violence in the State has substantially subsided. Therefore, a state-wide internet shutdown is not warranted, and the internet can be suspended if/when tensions flare at the district/local level; second, a comprehensive shutdown of the internet has a paralysing and disproportionate effect on the economy of the state, on education, communication, and day-to-day lives. Given that the Government has failed to balance the resident’s right to livelihood with sporadic threats to peace, the shutdown in Manipur is also violative of Article 19(1)(g).


III. Violation of the Apex Court’s judgment in Anuradha Bhasin


A. Non-publication of orders of the Competent Authority and Review Committee


The Government of Manipur has, to date, not published:


a. The approximately 20 orders passed by the Commissioner (Home), Manipur to impose a suspension of Internet services;


b. The orders passed by the State Review Committee to confirm the suspension orders passed by the Commissioner (Home), Manipur


either on their website or on the Twitter handle @manipurmygov. This is in direct contravention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s holding in Anuradha Bhasin [31] where it states that orders directing the suspension of internet service must be made freely available, directly and reliably, to the people, thereby enabling them to (a) make appropriate alternative arrangements so that their life and livelihood are not disproportionately affected by the suspension of internet services; and (b) challenge the suspension order if it constituted an unreasonable restriction on the exercise of their fundamental rights.


B. Indefinite shutdown

Despite the gradual return to normalcy, the state-wide internet shutdown order issued by the Respondent on May 3, 2023 and May 4, 2023 was mechanically extended twenty times, effectively resulting in an indefinite shutdown of the internet. This has been specifically prohibited by the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin which emphasized that suspending internet services indefinitely is impermissible; it can be for a temporary duration only [32].


C. Grossly disproportionate interference with the rights guaranteed to the residents of Manipur

The grossly disproportionate interference of the continued shutdown in Manipur with the resident’s constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and the right to carry on any trade or business under Article 19(1)(g) is violative of the Supreme Court’s holding in Anuradha Bhasin [33], which states that curtailment of the internet should be tested on the basis of ‘reasonableness’ and ‘proportionality’. I will elaborate on how the internet shutdown has failed each of the four prongs of the proportionality test in Section IV.


IV. Violation of Telecom Suspension Rules 2017


A. The continued suspension of the Internet for the purpose of preventing rumour-mongering and the spread of misinformation does not pass the threshold prescribed by the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017


As per Rule 2(6) of the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017 [34], an order suspending telecom services should be in accordance with the provisions of the main statute, viz., Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885. Section 5(2) of the Act allows for the suspension of the Internet “on the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of the public safetyor if the Central or State Government is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient so to do in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence” (emphasis supplied).


Notably, ‘public emergency’ denotes the abrupt emergence of a situation affecting the people at large, demanding immediate intervention [35], and ‘public safety’ means the state or condition of freedom from danger or risk for the people at large [36]. ‘Law and order’, on the other hand, is a comprehensive expression, which not only includes public emergencies but also matters such as public peace, tranquillity, orderliness in a locality or local area, et al [37].


The Telecom Suspension Rules 2017, therefore, do not envisage an internet shutdown when there is a threat to law and order, i.e., when there are disorders of lesser gravity than ‘public emergencies’ or those affecting ‘public order’. The internet can only be suspended “on the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of the public safety(emphasis supplied).


The Commissioner (Home), Manipur has failed to explicate the circumstances which warranted the continued suspension of internet services across the state. Each time the shutdown orders are renewed, it only records that there has been a threat to ‘law and order’, and that ‘anti-social elements’ may use social media to spread rumours and incite the public, which may have ‘serious repercussions’ on law and order in the state of Manipur. Thus, it is an admitted position that there is no ‘public emergency’ or ‘public safety’ interest at stake, but, at its highest, internet shutdowns are being repeatedly imposed to mitigate jeopardy to the ‘law and order’ situation in the state.


The second requirement of Section 5(2) of the Telegraph Act is for the Competent Authority to be satisfied that it is ‘necessary’ or ‘expedient’ to pass the orders in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India. The terms ‘necessary’ and ‘expedient’ imply that the Government of Manipur is liable to triangulate the necessity/expediency of imposition of an internet shutdown, after satisfying the four prongs of the proportionality test. In Section IV, I will establish, that the shutdown orders in Manipur fail the test of proportionality; therefore, they are not “necessary” or “expedient”.


B. The suspension orders have not been reviewed by the State Review Committee, which amounts to the elimination of a necessary statutory and constitutional step


The suspension of the internet affects the public at large — from business owners to school children. Given that it affects the lives and liberties of the people at large, natural justice demands that the Government should consult representatives from local communities, civil society organisations, and relevant stakeholders before imposing a shutdown. Notably, however, neither Anuradha Bhasin nor the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017 envisage public consultation before the imposition of a shutdown.


Review, then, by a State Review Committee becomes the next best means of evaluating whether restriction of access to the Internet is proportionate and constitutional, and to prevent an overbroad interpretation of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885. Notably, a State Review Committee consists of the Chief Secretary, Secretary (Law), and Secretary to the State Government [38]. To the best of our knowledge, the orders issued by the Commissioner (Home), Manipur to shut down the internet have not been confirmed by a Review Committee, as provided under Rule 2(5) of the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017 [39]. In forsaking review by the Review Committee altogether or the publication of the Review Committee orders at the least, the State Government has missed a significant constitutional and statutory step.


V. The shutdown orders in Manipur are grossly disproportionate in their interference with the resident’s constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and the right to carry on any trade or business under Article 19(1)(g), using the constitutionally protected medium of the internet


An order restricting the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined under Article 19 must be in strict accordance with the doctrine of proportionality. This was established in Modern Dental College v. State of Madhya Pradesh [40], and endorsed in KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India & Ors [41]. To meet the test of proportionality (a) a measure restricting a right must have a legitimate goal; (b) the measure must constitute a suitable means of furthering this goal; (c) there must not be any less restrictive but equally effective alternative; (d) the measure must not have a disproportionate impact on the right holder.


A. 1st prong: Legitimate Goal


The State Government cannot justify the continued suspension of the internet long after the tensions in the state of Manipur have subsided substantially, as it cannot claim to prevent loss of life, damage to public or private property, and disturbances to public tranquillity and communal harmony. Despite a gradual return to normalcy in the state [42], the Government has prolonged the internet shutdown for more than ninety days, making it clear that the suspension orders were not repeatedly extended to achieve a legitimate goal.


B. 2nd prong: Rational Connection


The Government has failed to demonstrate how a state-wide shutdown of internet services would effectively address the existing law and order threats, which are currently limited to specific districts or local levels. Hence, its actions do not meet the requirement of a proximate and direct nexus, which constitutes the second prong of the proportionality test.


C. 3rd prong: Necessity Test


Given that the violence in the state has been sporadic and confined to certain districts, a state-wide internet shutdown is not the least restrictive measure that could be employed to curb the violence. Less restrictive measures, such as targeted internet shutdowns at the district level, and blocking the use of specific social media platforms, could be utilized to restore law and order. Since, a continuous shutdown, for hundred days, was not ‘necessary’; the shutdown also fails the third prong of the proportionality test.


D. 4th prong: Balancing Stage


The prevention of disinformation campaigns, rumour-mongering, and sporadic threats to public safety cannot justify the significant economic loss suffered by the residents of Manipur, the general public, and the State itself during the 24-day internet shutdown. Not only have they experienced feelings of fear, anxiety, helplessness and frustration in the wake of the shutdowns, but been unable to communicate with their loved ones/office colleagues which has strained personal, professional, and social relationships, send their children to school, access their bank accounts, receive/send payments, obtain essential supplies and medicines, etc, thereby bringing lives and livelihoods to a standstill. Additionally, the economic loss suffered because of the shutdown is gargantuan. A 2017 report by Deloitte titled ‘Economic Impact of Disruptions to Internet Connectivity’ estimates that the cost of an internet shutdown for every 10 million inhabitants per day is nearly 24 million dollars [43]. With Manipur's population approximately reaching 3 million, the loss incurred over a hundred days amounts to a staggering 720 million dollars. Hence, the internet suspension order also fails to pass the fourth prong of the proportionality test, which involves striking a balance between competing interests.


VI. Conclusion


The case of Manipur should serve as a wake-up call for a broader national dialogue on the appropriate use of internet shutdowns as a tool for maintaining public order. The lack of transparency, failure to publish orders, and absence of review mechanisms only deepen the concerns about the potential misuse of power by the State Government. The government must adopt a more responsible and rights-respecting approach that aligns with the principles of democracy, transparency, and constitutionalism. As India continues its journey towards a digitally connected future, the rights and freedoms of its citizens must remain at the forefront of policy decisions, ensuring that progress is achieved without compromising the very essence of democracy.

 

End-Notes


[1] ‘India’s shutdown numbers’ (Internetshutdowns.in) <https://internetshutdowns.in> accessed 15 August 2023.

[2] Jayshree Bajoria, ‘No Internet Means No Work, No Pay, No Food’ (Human Rights Watch & Internet Freedom Foundation, 14 June, 2023) <https://www.hrw.org/report/2023/06/14/no-internet-means-no-work-no-pay-no-food/internet-shutdowns-deny-access-basic>.

[3] ‘Life limps back to normalcy in Manipur, curfew relaxed’ (CNBC, 7 May 2023) <https://www.cnbctv18.com/india/life-limps-back-to-normalcy-in-manipur-curfew-relaxed-16590161.htm>; ‘Manipur violence: Supreme Court asks state govt to file updated status report; hearing on next Monday’ Tribune India (New Delhi, 3 July 2023) <https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/manipur-violence-supreme-court-asks-state-govt-to-file-updated-status-report-hearing-on-next-monday-522373>.

[4] Basit Amin Makhdoomi, ‘Manipur High Court Orders State To Lift Internet Ban on Leased Connections; Fiber Internet To Be Restored on Case-To-Case Basis’ (Livelaw, 9 July 2023) <https://www.livelaw.in/high-court/manipur-high-court/manipur-high-court-internet-ban-lift-restrictions-safeguards-ftth-connections-232273>.

[5] Bajoria (n 2).

[6] (2020) 3 SCC 637.

[7] (2012) 4 SCC 707.

[8] (2017) 10 SCC 1; (2018) 1 SCC 809.

[9] Rajat Kathuria et al,‘The Anatomy of an Internet Blackout: Measuring the Economic Impact of Internet Shutdowns in India’ (Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, April 2018) <https://icrier.org/pdf/Anatomy_of_an_Internet_Blackout.pdf>.

[10] Nabodita Ganguly, ‘Internet ban exacerbates Manipur’s problems: Businesses struggle, education disrupted’ Hindu BusinessLine (Manipur, 23 June 2023) <https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/internet-ban-exacerbates-manipurs-problems-businesses-struggle-education-disrupted/article66949733.ece>.

[11] Rittick Mondal, ‘Internet ban cripples Manipur for 80 days: No online classes, transactions’ India Today (Imphal, 23 July 2023) <https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/internet-ban-cripples-manipur-for-80-days-no-online-classes-e-transactions-2410919-2023-07-24>.

[12] Outlook Web Desk, ‘Manipur violence: Kuki volunteers print own newspaper ‘Zalen Awgin’ Amid Internet Shutdown’ (Outlook India 27 July 2023) <https://www.outlookindia.com/national/manipur-violence-kuki-volunteers-print-own-newspaper-zalen-awgin-amid-internet-shutdown-news-305955>.

[13]‘MASBOA, Advanced Hospital urge Govt to restore internet service’ (E-Pao 18 May 2023) <http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=18..190523.may23>.

[14] Phanjoubam Herohit Meitei, ‘Prolonged Internet Ban in Manipur Impacts Remote Workers and Businesses Operating Across Time Zones’ (E-Pao, 12 August 2023) <http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.opinions.Prolonged_Internet_Ban_in_Manipur_Impacts_Remote_Workers_By_Phanjoubam_Herojit>.

[15] In Re: Reference to the Discontinuation of Internet Services by State Authorities, Order dated 20.12.2019 passed by the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court.

[16] ibid.

[17] 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 2976.

[18] Parth M.N, ‘An Internet Shutdown Means Manipur is Burning in the Dark’ (Wired, August 3, 2023) <https://www.wired.com/story/internet-shutdown-manipur-burning-in-the-dark/>.; Makepeace Sitlhou, ‘India’s deadly Manipur conflict highlights impact of internet cuts’ Nikkei Asia (New Delhi, 11 July 2023) <https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/India-s-deadly-Manipur-conflict-highlights-impact-of-internet-cuts>; Rokibuz Zaman, ‘How two months of internet shutdown paralysed Manipur’s economy’ (Scroll.in, 11 July 2023) <https://scroll.in/article/1052313/how-two-months-of-internet-shutdown-paralysed-manipurs-economy>.

[19] (1985) 1 SCC 641.

[20] (1988) 3 SCC 410.

[21] (1995) 2 SCC 161.

[22] Gary Marx, ‘Censorship and Secrecy, Social and Legal Perspectives’, International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences (2001) <https://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/cenandsec.html>.

[23] Alicia Adsera, Carles Boix and Mark Payne, ‘Are you being served? Political accountability and quality of government’ (2003) 19(2) The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 445–490 <https://doi.org/10.1093/jleo/ewg017>; Claudio Ferraz and Frederico Finan ‘Electoral accountability and corruption: Evidence from the audits of local governments’ (2011) 101(4) American Economic Review 1274–1311 <https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.101.4.1274>; Douglas A. Van Belle, Press Freedom and Global Politics (Bloomsbury Publishing 2000).

[24] Secy., Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Govt. of India v. Cricket Assn. of Bengal (1995) 2 SCC 161[193].

[25] ‘Manipur: Shocking Video Shows Two Kuki Women Paraded Naked; One Was Allegedly Gang-Raped (The Wire, 20 July 2023) <https://thewire.in/communalism/manipur-video-two-kuki-women-paraded-naked-gang-raped>.

[26] Padmakshi Sharma, ‘Absolute Breakdown of Machinery of State In Manipur, No Law & Order: Supreme Court Slams Manipur Police; Asks DGP to Personally Appear’ (Livelaw, 1 August 2023) <https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/supreme-court-manipur-violence-absolute-breakdown-of-machinery-of-state-in-manipur-no-law-order-summons-dgp-234099>.

[27] Kaushal Kishor v. The State of Uttar Pradesh W.P. (Crl.) 113 of 2016 [15.2].

[28] Public order, in this context means those serious and calculated forms of public disorder which are calculated to endanger the security of the state.

[29] (1966) 1 SCR 709.

[30] (1989) 2 SCC 574 [45].

[31] Anuradha Bhasin (n 6) [104].

[32] ibid [108].

[33] ibid [160.4].

[34] The Review Committee shall meet within five working days of issue of directions for suspension of services due to public emergency or public safety and record its findings whether the directions issued under sub-rule (1) are in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 5 of the said Act.

[35] Vinit Kumar v. CBI 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 3155.

[36] ibid.

[37] In Ram Manohar Lohia v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court offered a clarifying example of a threat to law and order: “if people indulging in the Hindu religious festivity of Holi become rowdy, prevention of that disturbance may be called maintenance of law and order”.

[38] The current composition of the Review Committee lacks inclusion of representatives from essential quarters such as local communities and civil society organizations. This gap curtails its capacity to effectively function as a bulwark against unnecessary and disproportionate shutdown orders, underscoring the need for a more comprehensive and inclusive representation within the Committee's framework.

[39] “The Central Government or the State Government, as the case may be, shall constitute a Review Committee…”

[40] (2012) 4 SCC 707.

[41] (2017) 10 SCC 1 and (2019) 1 SCC 1.

[42] (n 3).

[43] ‘The Economic impact of disruptions to Internet connectivity’ (Deloitte, 21 October 2017) <https://www.deloitte.com/an/en/Industries/tmt/perspectives/the-economic-impact-of-disruptions-to-internet-connectivity-report-for-facebook.html>.

 

Natasha Maheshwari is an advocate practicing before the Supreme Court of India and High Court of Delhi.


Cover Image Credits: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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