The Human Rights Watch on Friday said so far in 2017, there have been as many as 20 internet shutdowns in India, and urged the authorities not to resort to arbitrary shutdown of internet and telecommunications network in order to prevent social unrest. “The lack of transparency and failure to explain these shutdowns only further the perception that they are meant to suppress non-violent reporting and criticism of the government,” HRW South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said.

Authorities have not followed legal procedures while suspending the internet, HRW said, adding that they should use social media to discourage violence when needed. It said the Indian government had often suspended the internet unnecessarily – ahead of bye-elections in Jammu and Kashmir in April 2017, or to prevent cheating in exams.

According to the Software Freedom Law Centre, there have ben 79 instances of internet shutdowns in the country across 14 states since 2012. Only two instances were recorded in 2012, but, as many as 31 were recorded in 2016. While Jammu and Kashmir has recorded the most number of shutdowns during this period, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana have recorded nine each, the Delhi-based non-profit organisation said.

According to a report by Washington-based Brookings Institute published in October 2016, India tops the list of countries that had an economic impact of internet shutdowns. India lost over $968 million (more than Rs 6,000 crore) between July 2015 and July 2016, the report said.

The government has maintained that it suspends mobile internet services to prevent “anti-social” elements from misusing social media platforms during a period of unrest. The HRW said arbitrary internet shutdowns were violation of India’s obligations under the international human rights law that protects the rights of people to freely receive or provide information through all kinds of media, including the internet.

Ganguly said the Indian government had been promoting the idea of Digital India, however, the goal could not be achieved if the government kept imposing blanket restrictions. “A modern India that wants technology for development cannot at the same time be haphazardly involving national security to deny people access to essential information and services,” she said.