96-hour Internet Shutdown in Pulwama Villages of South Kashmir

A file photo of journalists’ protest against internet shutdown in Srinagar on December 14, 2019. KT Photo/Qazi Irshad
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SRINAGAR: The authorities shutdown internet services in two villages in Pulwama district for four days, from November 5 till November 8, 2023. However, the reason for the internet shutdown has not been provided by the security agencies.

An order directing suspension of mobile data on grounds of “preventing deterioration in public order” was issued in the public domain, two days after the service was disrupted. 

In violation of Supreme Court ruling, while the reasons for shutting the internet were vaguely stated, the public notification came two days after the shutdown began. 

In the Anuradha Bhasin judgement 2020, the Supreme Court held that shutdowns violate fundamental rights, should be reasonable, necessary and satisfy principle of proportionality. The court also laid down that if limited restrictions have to be imposed, the reasons must be explicitly placed in the public domain. 

Internet service was suspended in Wamoora and Hunipora villages of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district since 7 PM last Sunday. While directing the suspension of mobile data services in a three-kilometer radius, the order simply states that there may be a “possibility” of the data being “misused by anti-national elements/miscreants, which may cause deterioration in public order”. 

An order by Home Department was released to the press on Tuesday. It stated, “Whereas, the ADGP, Kashmir Zone, Srinagar being the Authorized Officer under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, has issued directions to the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs)/Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to suspend mobile data (2G/3G/4G/5G) services in Wampora and Hunipora area (latitude 33.9614541 and longitude 74.8720951 with 3 kilometers of radius) of District Puiwama w.e.f 1900 hours on 05.11.2023 to 1900 hours on 08.11.2023;”

“and Whereas, the order/letter under reference, inter-airs, mentions about possibility of Mobile Data (2G/3G/4G/5G) services to be misused by anti-national elements/miscreants, which may cause deterioration in public order. Now, therefore, upon consideration of the various aspects, as brought out in the material provided by the Authorized Officer, I, Financial Commissioner (ACS) Home, being satisfied that there was absolute necessity for issuance of the aforesaid directions by the Authorized Officer, without obtaining prior approval of the Competent Authority, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State and for maintaining public order, hereby confirm order No. 4106(TSTS) of 2023 dated 05.11.2023, under endorsement No. KZ/CS/Snap-downt2023 dated 05.11.2023 issued by the Authorized Officer, in exercise of powers conferred under sub-rule (1) of Rule 2 of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017,” it added.

Responding to the shutdown and vaguely worded order, National Conference (NC) vice president Omar Abdullah said on Wednesday that the authorities should tell people the reasons for such actions.

Talking to reporters in Bandipora, Abdullah, a former chief minister, said he was not aware of the reason for the mobile internet shutdown, a PTI report said. 

“It would be good to let the people in those areas know the reasons behind it. People are not fools…they would not protest on such a thing, but they want to understand the reason behind stopping the services,” Omar said, according to the report.

This is not the first time that orders for internet shutdown have been vaguely worded. In fact, orders directing shutdowns are rarely placed in the public domain. 

The four-day long shutdown in Pulwama villages highlights a larger malaise of repeated, and sometimes prolonged shutdowns executed by the government without informing them. 

In 2022, a global internet monitoring report by Lithuania based Surfshark maintained that Kashmir leads the world with 24 internet shutdowns, surpassing even Russia and Iran. According to the report more than a fifth of the world’s internet shutdowns happened in Kashmir. 

Despite Supreme Court guidelines on internet shutdown, the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have been resorting to frequent shutdowns in clear violation. Most orders never make it to the public and internet shutdowns are rarely reported in the media. 

Many other parts of India this year have witnessed prolonged digital shutdowns. In Punjab, internet was switched off for several days in March. In May, 2023, the Indian government barred internet services in Manipur. The services continue to be disrupted in the region since. 

No adequate orders have been placed in the public domain.