There were no verifiable or centralised records of internet shutdowns in the country, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology said on Tuesday, reported The Hindu.
In its report, the panel, led by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, said that neither the Union Ministry of Home Affairs nor the Department of Telecom maintain a record on internet shutdowns across the country, unidentified officials told The Hindu.
A report published by digital rights and privacy organisation Access Now in March had shown that India had the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world in 2020. Of the total 155 internet shutdowns globally, India alone accounted for 109, according to the report.
It was the third consecutive year that India had topped the global chart on this matter.
In its report, the parliamentary committee also noted that there were no rules to dictate these shutdowns, unidentified officials told The Hindu.
It said that “public safety” and “public emergencies” – the grounds on which government impose internet shutdowns – have not been clearly defined. This has reduced the clampdown to a “routine policing and administrative tool”, according to The Hindu.
Unidentified officials told The Indian Express that said the panel wanted the government to set up a mechanism to review the impact and effect of internet shutdowns.
The report cited the example of situation in Jammu and Kashmir and said that there should be a “standard operating procedure” to review a shutdown.
An internet shutdown was imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the central government revoked the special status granted to it under Article 370 on August 5, 2019. The government had aimed to suppress any protest following the decision.
The report noted that the internet clampdown has also adversely affected telecom service providers, officials told The Hindu. The Cellular Operators Association had submitted before the committee that every hour of internet or telecom shutdowns cost them Rs 2.50 crore in every area.
Trade is also badly affected as it now heavily relies on internet banking. These amount to violation of right to livelihood, the report said, according to The Indian Express.
The panel said that the importance of internet could not be overemphasised. “There is need to maintain a delicate balance between the citizen’s right to access the internet and the state’s duty to deal with a public emergency,” the report said.
It also recommended an analysis to study the impact of internet shutdowns on the economy. The panel will table the report in Parliament during the Winter Session beginning this month.
In January last year, the Supreme Court had held that access to internet was a fundamental right.
“We are confining ourselves to declaring that the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), and the right to carry on any trade or business under 19(1)(g), using the medium of internet is constitutionally protected,” the court had said.