The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre seeking its response on the protocol about internet shutdowns during public examinations, reported Bar and Bench.

The direction was given by a bench of Chief Justice of India UU Lalit, Justices S Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha on a petition filed by Software Freedom Law Centre non-governmental organisation challenging arbitrary internet shutdowns to prevent cheating during public examinations.

The petition states that the governments of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Rajasthan have been imposing internet shutdowns on the pretext of “imaginary, fanciful or fictitious law and order problems” arising from the examinations. “Such administrative decisions are manifestly arbitrary and wholly disproportionate response, and are impermissible under the Constitution,” the petition stated.

Internet was shut down in Assam on August 21 and August 28 to prevent candidates from cheating in government exams. In September last year, Rajasthan snapped the interned during the test to recruit teachers for Classes 1-8.

On Friday, Justice Bhat said that violations such as “arbitrary internet shutdowns” can be dealt with when they happen as the government is bound to issue such orders from time to time, Live Law reported. He also asked the petitioner why it did not seek relief from one of the High Courts since similar pleas were filed in Delhi and Calcutta.

Advocate Vrinda Grover, representing the petitioner, said that state governments mentioned in the plea did not publish the internet shutdown orders in the public domain – which was a violation of the Anuradha Bhasin versus Union of India judgement.

In 2019, Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin challenged the communication blockade in Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 in the Supreme Court. The top court in its judgement on January 10, 2020, held that any order suspending the internet under the suspension rules is subject to judicial review.

Chief Justice Lalit orally remarked that instead of shutdowns the governments could consider installing signal jammers, however that would have cost implications.

The petition also challenged Rajasthan’s internet shutdown across the state in September 2021. Chief Justice Lalit asked Grover why she did not move the Rajasthan High Court to challenge the blanket order. To this, the advocate said that the suspension of the internet was a “pan-India phenomenon”.

India has witnessed 683 internet shutdowns between 2012 and 2022 – highest in the world.