The Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology has recommended that the Union government should not shutdown the Internet services in every case, saying that the 'Internet is indispensable in everyday lives of citizens of the country'.
In its 26th report tabled in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday on 'the suspension of telecom services or Internet and its impact', the Parliamentary Committee has stated a Supreme Court order, saying that access to the Internet is protected under the same constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression and the right of doing trade or business. The committee said that in the absence of any standard operating procedures (SOPs) or similar guidelines regarding Internet shutdown and lack of other safeguards, the state governments get an opportunity to resort to Internet shutdown in any situation to maintain law and order.
The parliamentary committee headed by senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has recommended to the Union government to issue a uniform SOP on the modalities to be adopted by all states and union territories (UTs) regarding the Internet shutdown.
The committee has also recommended to both the Department of Telecommunications and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to set up a mechanism at the earliest to have a centralised database of all such orders of Internet shutdown in the country.
Recommending to define 'public emergency' and 'public safety' and lay down its provisions and components, the committee has expressed concerns that the Internet shutdown is also being resorted to prevent cheating in examinations and preventing local crimes.
The committee has urged the Department of Telecommunications to put in place a strong monitoring mechanism so that the states or UTs do not shut down the Internet services using Section 144 of the CrPC.
Referring to the rule that no Internet shutdown order can be enforced for more than 15 days, the committee expressed concerns about the prolonged Internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir after abrogation of Article 370, though the Union government told the committee that it was done for national security reasons.
Referring to the economic loss and inconvenience caused to the people due to Internet shutdown, the committee has recommended to the government to increase the number of members of the committee reviewing the decision on suspension of telecom services and to keep authentic data of its orders.
Referring to the government's reply that there was no study to trace the links between the Internet shutdowns and communal riots, the committee asked the government to ban social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc., instead of complete ban on the Internet.
The committee also urged the Union government to explore alternatives instead of complete Internet ban, adding that the Telecommunications department should also study the rules being adopted in this regard by other democratic countries in the world.