The Supreme Court of India issued notice to the Union Government on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Software Freedom Law Center, India (SFLC.in) challenging the imposition of Internet Shutdowns to prevent cheating in examinations in the five states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and West Bengal today.
The bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) U.U. Lalit, Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice P.S. Narasimha asked the government for the standard protocol on internet shutdowns.
A total of 12 instances of exam-related Internet Shutdowns have been documented on SFLC.in’s Internet Shutdowns Tracker, the first and only real-time internet shutdown tracker in India. There have been 3 additional shutdowns, 2 in Assam and One in West Bengal after the petition was filed bringing the total number to 15. These 15 instances alone amounted to over 80 hours of disruption of the internet services. 7 out of the 15 suspensions, including the recent one in October 2021, were imposed in the state of Rajasthan.
The SFLC petition said that India is the leader in imposing Internet Shutdowns globally. The phenomenon of blanket internet bans during examinations to prevent copying has become common in several Indian states. Such bans primarily target mobile internet services.
In January 2020, the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India upheld that the Internet is a medium for exercising the fundamental freedoms guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g). The court also ruled that the orders to shut down the internet must be made public.
Adv Vrinda Grover argued on behalf of the petitioners that the guidelines issued in Anuradha Bhasin vs. Union of India (2020) 3 SCC 637 were persistently not complied with. The Union of India which was imp leaded as a party respondent on the direction of the Court, has been asked to clarify the standard protocol with respect to the grievance raised and the extent of compliance thereto by the States. The Union has been directed to file its reply within 3 weeks. The next hearing will take place after 4 weeks.
The PIL was being argued by Ms. Vrinda Grover, Adv., assisted by Mr. Prasanna S (Advocate on Record), Soutik Banerjee, Swati Arya & Yuvraj Singh Rathore, Advs. and lawyers from SFLC.in Mishi Choudhary (Founder, SFLC.in), Prasanth Sugathan (Legal Director), Radhika Jhalani (Volunteer Legal Counsel ) , Mythili Srinivasamurthy (Volunteer Legal Counsel), Arjun Adrian D’Souza (Volunteer Legal Counsel).
Read a copy of the petition here: