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Frequent suspension of Internet on flimsy grounds not justifiable: Parliamentary panel

Frequent suspension of Internet on flimsy grounds not justifiable: Parliamentary panel

Kashmiri journalists hold placards and protest against 100 days of internet blockade in the region in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. AP/Mukhtar Khan

New Delhi: Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology Wednesday said that public safety and public emergency, often used by State and Central governments to justify the suspension of telecom and internet services in an area, are not defined under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act.

The panel, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, in its report titled "Suspension of Telecom and Internet Services and Its Impact", noted that when the government's thrust is on digitisation, frequent suspension of the Internet on flimsy grounds is uncalled for and must be avoided, PTI reported.

The panel also called for defining the parameters and a robust mechanism for the Internet shutdown.

It noted that there is a need to monitor the exercise of this provision so that these are not misused to the disadvantage of people at large.

The Committee, therefore, recommend that a proper mechanism is put in place at the earliest to decide on the merit or appropriateness of telecom/internet shutdowns, it said in the report.

The committee further remarked that governments have resorted to telecom/internet shutdown regularly and have been using this as a tool for routine policing and even administrative purposes, which do not amount to large scale public safety concerns and certainly do not amount to a 'Public Emergency.'

The panel also quoted the Cellular Operators Association of India, according to whom telecom operators reportedly lose Rs 24.5 million (2.45 crore) per hour in every circle area where there is a shutdown or throttling.

The committee then suggested that the MHA as well as the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) should establish a mechanism to maintain a centralised database of all internet shutdowns in India. The database should contain details such as the number of times the telecom or internet service in an area was suspended, the reasons, duration, and the decision of the competent authority in this regard.

The standing committee added that the database should also be made available in the public domain which will not only help in transparency but also course correction in case of deviation from Rules/procedures and to gauge its impact on the economy.

The panel has also suggested that the government should opt for banning selective services such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram as it would allow financial services, health, education and other vital sectors to continue functioning.

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