An Internet ban will not restore peace in Manipur

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    An Internet ban will not restore peace in Manipur

    Syllabus: GS2/ Government Policies & Interventions

    In Context

    • The entire State of Manipur is currently affected due to violence followed by the Internet Shutdown.

    Internet shutdown in Manipur

    • The Internet shutdown in Manipur, first enforced on May 3, is a case of blanket prohibition. 
    • The entire State is affected, and it is not a case of some of a total of 16 districts being affected; it covers all web traffic and mediums of connectivity.
    • Data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India show that the people of Manipur access the Internet primarily through their smartphones; and wired Internet users primarily constitute institutional, commercial and higher socio-economic groups.

    Unrest in Manipur

    • Other reasons of unrest:
      • Unrest has been brewing among the hill tribes of the state for a number of reasons.
      • A major reason for the discontent has been the state government’s notices since August 2022 claiming that 38 villages in the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest area (in Churachandpur and Noney districts) are “illegal settlements” and its residents are “encroachers”.
      • Following this, the government set out on an eviction drive which resulted in clashes.
    •  ‘Tribal Solidarity March’:
      • March was called to oppose the longstanding demand that the Meitei community be included in the list of the state’s Scheduled Tribes (ST), which received a boost from a recent order of the Manipur High Court.
    • Video clip of sexual violence in Manipur:
      • Recently a video resurfaced in which three women were stripped and paraded by a mob in violence-hit Manipur.
      • The ordeal suffered by the women is amplified by the perpetrators’ decision to share the video on social media revealing the identity of the victims.  
      • Two of the women are seen in the clip.

    Internet Shutdown

    • Internet Shutdowns may be defined as any disruption in access to the internet services most of which deal with mobile internet. 
    • While a lot of shutdowns are necessary to prevent communal tensions, civil war, or riots and situations of unrest, they need to be proportionate.

    Types

    • Preventive shutdowns:
      • Preventive shutdowns are imposed before an event takes place. 
      • For example, following the circulation of a video of a tailor getting beheaded in Udaipur, there was a shutdown in anticipation of a communal riot. 
    • Reactive shutdowns:
      • A reactive shutdown is imposed after an event takes place and is generally the easiest way to control an escalating law and order situation.

    Legal Provisions

    • Section 144 of CrPC:
      • Till the year 2017, shutdowns were imposed largely under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). 
      • Section 144 of CrPC gave the police and the District Magistrate the powers in order to prevent unlawful gathering of people and also to direct any person to abstain from a certain activity. 
    • Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017:
      • In 2017 the law was amended and the Government promulgated the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rule 2017.
      • The substantive law regarding suspension of Internet services is a broad interpretation of Section 5(2) of Telegraph Act 1855, although the traditional law regarding the same was not a lump of the former Act or Rules.
      • The authority who are able to order such directions is:
        • The Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs. (Central Government)

    Issues & criticisms of Internet shutdowns 

    • Against the Fundamental rights: Internet and communications shutdowns, when in place, violate the fundamental freedom of expression. 
      • Article 19 of the Constitution mentions freedom of speech and freedom to practise any profession. 
      • Article 21 protects the right to life and liberty, which also encompasses the right to education and the right to exercise one’s freedom to access the Internet.
    • No proof for controlling violence:
      • There is an absence of data or specific instances of violence being prevented due to the jamming of Internet connectivity. 
      • There are instances wherein, In an Internet ban, misinformation spreads rather than abates.
    • Frivolous reasons of shutdowns:
      • The freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right, but shutdowns cannot happen for frivolous reasons. 
        • Rajasthan cut off the Internet before the REET (Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers) exam and West Bengal did the same before the Madhyamik Pariksha.
        • Shutdowns for preventing cheating in exams should not be a ground. 
    • Imposing authority:
      • Nobody below the level of a Joint Secretary can impose a shutdown. 
      • But often, district magistrates end up imposing blanket shutdowns. 

    Repercussions of shutdowns: 

    • Arbitrary Internet shutdowns are not only an attack on the civil liberties and the constitutional rights of the citizens, by the State, but they have grave economic consequences too, with businesses and working professionals losing out on sales and job days. 
      • People can’t work, access telemedicine, study, or even eat, since so many of our delivery services need the Internet and an OTP (one-time password). 
    • Moreover, it is doubtful whether these shutdowns help in achieving the stated goals of maintaining law and order.

    Supreme Court’s Observations- Anuradha Bhasin and Faheema Shirin case

    • The Supreme Court has held in various decisions, including in Anuradha Bhasin and Faheema Shirin, that access to the Internet has to be preserved. 
    • Apex Court’s directions:
      • Shutdowns should be exercised only in situations which require exceptional control and surveillance. 
      • The Court has said a shutdown needs to be temporary, limited in scope, lawful and proportionate.
      • According to the Anuradha Bhasin judgment, if you’re cutting off somebody’s Internet, you have to at least inform them. 
      • Often there is no public information about a shutdown.

    Way ahead

    • For Manipur, the video clip is a vital moment for a national awakening that must be achieved without any reputational and social harm to survivors of sexual violence and communal hatred. 
    • Information flows are also necessary to ensure the accountability of the State and central governments in taking steps to ensure truth, justice and reconciliation.
    • Accountability can only come when the courts improve on the precedent of the Anuradha Bhasin case and demand it from the State and central executive.  

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Examine the significance of applying Internet bans in the absence of specific data of violence being prevented due to the jamming of Internet connectivity. Highlight the Apex Court’s directions for implementing Internet bans in India.