The Jharkhand High Court has directed the state government to publish on its official website all previous orders pertaining to the suspension of internet services in the state, Bar and Bench reported on Tuesday.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjaya Kumar Mishra and Justice Ananda Sen was hearing a petition filed by Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre, a legal services organisation.
The petitioner sought that internet shutdown orders issued by the state government last year should be disclosed. The organisation also requested the court to quash these orders and disclose the record of all review proceedings.
In response, the government stated that internet services had been suspended only for short periods last year to curb rumours and fake information that could have undermined the law and order situation.
The court adjudged that there was nothing faulty with the internet suspension orders.
“However, the respondents should have notified the orders suspending the internet services on their website at appropriate time as per the directions given by the Supreme Court,” it said.
The judges also directed the state government to follow the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the the Anuradha Bhasin versus Union of India case and the Foundation for Media Professions versus Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir & Another case.
In the Anuradha Bhasin judgment, the Supreme Court had said that governments should publish all orders of prohibition so that those affected could challenge them. The court held that the Indian law did not permit the indefinite suspension of internet services, and that orders to shut down the internet were subject to judicial review.
The court also severely restricted the government’s power to issue orders for an internet shutdown under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
It reiterated safeguards such as periodic assessments of a situation by a review committee, the publication of the shutdown order, and the application of mind by the authorities to use their power in a reasonable, balanced and non-intrusive manner.
Despite this, a report by the global digital rights group Access Now published in February revealed that India accounted for 44.9% of all documented internet shutdowns in 2022, 58.1% of all documented internet outages in 2021, and 68.5% of documented shutdowns in 2020.
Another report by Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation, and the Internet Freedom Foundation published in June identified 127 shutdowns from January 2020, when the Anuradha Basin guidelines were issued, to December 31, 2022.