The Indian government has shut down the internet in various parts of the country 374 times since 2012. More than a hundred of those shutdowns took place in 2019 alone.
The most recent shutdown took place in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday, when the internet was snapped in at least eight places. In Kashmir, there was been no mobile internet service since August 5.
India leads the world in internet shutdowns by a considerable margin.
The number of states that shut down the internet in one or more districts has increased, from just Jammu and Kashmir in 2012, to 14 states in 2019.
On December 19, the internet in even some parts of Delhi was shut down, as a reaction to protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Internet shutdowns in the country are ordered under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017. Under these rules, an officer – of no less than joint secretary rank in the state or Union government – may order the suspension of telecom services “due to public emergency or public safety”.
The cost of a shutdown
India lost $968 million because of internet shutdowns between July 2015 and June 2016, a study by the think-tank Brookings Institution found. Another estimate – by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, a think-tank based in Delhi – put the loss due to internet shutdowns at more than 3 billion dollars between the years of 2012-’17.
Less quantifiable than the economic costs of such shutdowns is the curbs they place upon media freedom, and the manner in which they infringe upon human rights. The United Nations declared internet access a basic human right in 2016, although only the state of Kerala recognises it as such in India, following an order by the Kerala High Court in 2017.
“Shutting down the internet is an inherently disproportionate response [to the threat of false information triggering violence],” argues a report by Access Now, an international non-profit group that advocates for a free internet. The report adds that a shutdown “often leaves vulnerable people without access to information that could potentially save their lives”.