The Haryana government on Wednesday lifted the internet blockade imposed in Panipat and Charkhi Dadri, even as the ban will continue in five other districts of the state till 5 pm on February 4, reported PTI.

The state government has extended the suspension of mobile internet services, bulk SMS services and all dongle services provided on mobile networks in Kaithal, Jind, Rohtak, Sonipat and Jhajjar till 5 pm, Thursday. There is no restriction on making voice calls.

The order was issued to “prevent any disturbance of peace and public order” in the jurisdiction of these districts amid the farmer protests against the agricultural laws. Any person who will be found guilty of violation the order will be liable for legal action under relevant provisions, authorities said.

The Haryana government had first ordered the suspension of mobile internet services in Sonipat, Jhajjar and Palwal districts on January 26 after a tractor rally by farmers in Delhi turned chaotic. On January 30, it had extended the suspension to 17 districts, and had even halted SMS services in these areas.

Though the communication blockade was eventually lifted in some districts, it was extended again in seven districts of the state on February 1. This time, too, authorities cited law and order situation, claiming the ban was imposed to “to prevent any disturbance of peace and public order”.

No internet at Delhi’s borders

Internet services were also blocked at the three Delhi borders – Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur – the epicentre of the agitation against the new laws, where farmers have been camped in for over two months. On February 1 the ban was extended till February 2, 11 pm.

Though the blockade was not extended beyond this, internet services at the borders continued to remain erratic on Wednesday, reported The Hindu.

“There is still no Internet at the Singhu border today,” Harinder Singh, media coordinator for the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, told The Hindu. “It is still suspended, despite whatever the home ministry is saying. It’s s just another attempt to defame the farmers. They know it very well that farmers at Singhu are not aware of these claims and they can’t counter these claims.”

The Ministry of Home Affairs had invoked the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety Rules 2017) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, to suspend internet services in Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri.

The rules framed in 2017 empower the Union Home Secretary and a State’s Home Secretary to pass directions to suspend the telecom services, including Internet in an area “due to public emergency or public safety”.

In this case, the emergency provisions were invoked on January 26, citing the violence at the tractor rally. The provision has been used only twice in the past; during the protests against the new citizenship laws on December 19 and 20, 2019.

Clamp down on protestors

For over two months, farmers have been camped peacefully in these protest sites, demanding the Centre repeal the new legislations that they say will benefit private buyers at their expense. But things changed on January 26, when thousands of farmers broke through barricades and poured into the city. A section of them stormed the Red Fort.

Ever since, the Narendra Modi government has launched a crackdown on the demonstration. Police complaints against farmer leaders followed, as did arrest of hundreds of protestors and registration of first information reports against journalists.

Farmers’ unions said the government had disconnected electricity and water and removed mobile toilets at the protest sites. The police also fortified barricades and dug up trenches to block access to the areas.

Twitter temporarily blocked accounts tweeting about the protests, including those of Caravan magazine and farm leaders, at the demand of the government.

The extraordinary step of shutting down internet services has drawn international condemnation. On Tuesday, a tweet by pop star Rihanna in support of the farmers dominated social media, leading to an outpouring of criticism of the Modi government by celebrities and human rights activists alike.

On Thursday, the United States too urged the government to resolve its differences with the farmers over the recently passed agriculture reforms through dialogue, saying that peaceful protests are a “hallmark of any thriving democracy”.