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Government data shows internet shutdowns in India could be the worst in the world

Students use the internet to check results of standard examinations, New Delhi, India, 2018
Students use the internet to check results of standard examinations, New Delhi, India, 2018

Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

This article was originally published on sflc.in on 14 July 2018. 

We at SFLC.in have been tracking incidents of Internet shutdowns across India in an attempt to draw attention towards the number and frequency of shutdowns, which are imposed for reasons ranging from curbing unrest to preventing cheating during examinations. This data is made publicly available in the form of an interactive Internet Shutdown Tracker hosted on our dedicated website www.internetshutdowns.in, which also features additional resources on the topic.

Over the years, we have noticed a staggering increase in the number and frequency of shutdowns. Whereas in 2012 only 3 shutdowns were reported, all in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the number rose to 70 in 2017 across 19 states. And as of July 2018, 68 shutdowns have already been recorded across 14 states, bringing the total number of shutdowns recorded since 2012 to 197. It's worth noting that this number is the highest anywhere in the world.

In the absence of any reliable means to gain access to Internet shutdown orders issued by various Government agents, our data is collected mostly from media reports (online and print). Over the course of the project we have expanded to include a citizen reportage mechanism i.e. a mechanism for citizens in or around affected areas to bring instances of shutdowns to attention, and provide input on how the shutdowns affected them and their communities. Nevertheless, all data recorded by our tracker continues to be secondary, which means it is entirely possible for shutdowns that are not reported by the media or affected citizens to be absent from the tracker.

In order to get a sense of the true extent of unreported shutdowns (if any), we filed an application under the Right to Information Act 2005 to the Rajasthan Home Department in April 2018, asking the following question among others: “what is the exact number of Internet Shutdowns that were ordered in Rajasthan during 07.08.2017 to 01.05.2018?”. This time-frame was chosen because the Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency and Public Safety) Rules, 2017 – the current enabling legislation for Internet shutdowns – was enacted on August 8, 2017, and there was a good chance that consolidated data on shutdowns imposed under the Rules would be available with Central and State Home Departments.

We received a response from the Home Department stating that our applications had been forwarded to various district-level departments, and that we would be receiving the requested information from those departments. As of the time of writing this blog post, we have received further replies from 21 of the 33 districts in Rajasthan, revealing that there have been 35 instances of Internet shutdowns between 07.08.2017 and 01.05.2018 across these 21 districts. Considering that our tracker had recorded only 14 instances of Internet shutdowns across all of Rajasthan during the same time period, it can be gathered that there were at least 21 unreported instances of Internet shutdowns in Rajasthan alone during the eight-odd months in question.

[For a comprehensive list of shutdowns see SFLC.in's original article]

These responses illustrate that a large number of unreported Internet shutdowns do indeed go unreported, which means the actual number of shutdowns in India is likely much higher than what our Internet Shutdowns Tracker reflects. We are awaiting replies from other states and districts, and will update this blog as and when we receive them. Additional shutdowns brought to light by the replies will be added to our tracker and linked back to this post.

The telecom suspension orders issued in the above mentioned unreported instances of Internet Shutdowns are provided on the following PDF:

Telecom Suspension Orders


RTI - Internet shutdown order wise_0.pdf (8012 KB)

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