India once again tops Internet blockade list

India has once again retained the notorious distinction of the highest number of internet shutdowns globally.

Of the 182 internet restrictions recorded worldwide in the year 2021, 106 happened in India, shows the latest data released by Access Now, a global digital rights group.

As per the data, between 2016 and 2021, there were 937 cases of internet shutdowns or restrictions in the world and 567 of them were from India. An overwhelming majority of these shutdowns have been imposed in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir during cordon and search operations.

In the last five years, the highest number of internet shutdowns was seen in IIOJK while Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have come distant second, third and fourth respectively in the list. According to the available data, IIOJK has recorded 85 of the 106 shutdowns imposed by the Indian government in the year 2021. Pulwama, Srinagar and Kulgam were the most affected areas of the occupied territory.

The report notes that the motive behind the shutting down of the internet was mainly suppression of anti-India protest demonstrations.

Activists and experts in India have been debating about when and why the internet ban should be imposed with many saying that the bans are indiscriminate and restrict the right of people to free speech and access to information.

In January 2020, the Supreme Court of India also held that access to information through the Internet is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. The court, while hearing a petition filed by noted Kashmiri writer, author and journalist, Anuradha Bhasin, also decided that if the government imposes a ban on the use of the internet, it should be temporary, limited to a scope, legally valid and necessary.

In December 2021, a parliamentary committee, headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in its report tabled in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament, also questioned the government decisions on internet restrictions and demanded more transparency and providing accurate data. The committee report cited Indian cellular operators claiming that “one hour internet ban in the area would result in a loss of about Rs 2.5 crore per hour”.

On the other hand, the Indian government has been saying that “law and order and security concerns are the most prominent among the reasons for internet shutdown in the country”. Digital rights experts, however, say that internet shutdowns run against India’s commitment to international human rights laws. The United Nations had declared internet access as a fundamental right.

In the year 2021, about 13 million Indian consumers were affected by the ban on the internet for a total of 8,920 hours, while on the other hand it caused a loss of about 200 billion rupees, according to a report by Britain’s Digital Privacy and Security Research Group.

Experts say these reports confirm that shutdowns do more harm than benefit.

Notably, on May 3, the annual report released by Reporters Without Borders, global media watchdog, maintained that the freedom of journalists in India is continuously decreasing.

According to this report, India has now slipped eight places out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index-2022, to 150th place as compared to 142nd place last year.