Of the 182 internet restrictions recorded worldwide in the year 2021, 106 happened in India.
NEW DELHI – India has once again retained the dubious distinction of the highest number of internet shutdowns globally. Of the 182 internet restrictions recorded worldwide in the year 2021, 106 happened in India, according to the latest data released by Access Now, a global digital rights group.
According to the data, between 2016 and 2021, there were 937 cases of internet shutdowns or restrictions in the world and 567 of them were from India. An overwhelming majority of these shutdowns have been imposed in Kashmir where gunbattles between the military and militants are a recurrent affair.
The report notes that the motives behind the shutting down of the internet included suppression of protests and preventing online fraud.
Activists and experts in India have been debating about when and why the internet ban should be imposed with many saying that the bans are indiscriminate and restrict the right of people to free speech and access to information.
In January 2020, the Supreme Court of India also held that access to information through the Internet is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. The court, while hearing the Anuradha Bhasin VS Union of India case, also decided that if the government imposes a ban on the use of the Internet, it should be temporary, limited to a scope, legally valid and necessary.
In December 2021, a parliamentary committee headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in its report tabled in the Lok Sabha, also questioned the government decisions on internet restrictions and demanded more transparency and providing accurate data.
The committee report cited Indian cellular operators claiming that “one hour internet ban in the area would result in a loss of about Rs 2.5 crore per hour”.
On the other hand, the Central government has been saying that “law and order and security concerns are the most prominent among the real reasons for internet shutdown in the country”. Digital rights experts, however, say that internet shutdowns run against India’s commitment to international human rights laws. The United Nations had declared Internet access as a fundamental right.
In the last five years, the highest number of internet shutdowns was seen in Jammu and Kashmir while Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have come distant second, third and fourth respectively in the list. According to the available data, Jammu and Kashmir has recorded 85 of the 106 shutdowns in India in the year 2021. Pulwama, Srinagar and Kulgam were the most affected areas. Government argues that restrictions on the internet enable the forces to effectively deal with militants during gun battles.
Such shutdowns are bound to affect businesses at a time when the Modi government is pushing for digitisation of the economy.
In the year 2021, about 13 million Indian consumers were affected by the ban on the Internet for a total of 8,920 hours, while on the other hand it caused a loss of about 200 billion rupees, according to a report by Britain’s Digital Privacy and Security Research Group. Experts say these reports confirm that shutdowns do more harm than benefit.
Notably, on May 3, the annual report released by Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday showed the freedom of journalists in India is continuously decreasing.
According to this report, India has now slipped eight places out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index – 2022, to 150th place as compared to 142nd place last year.